Why So Many People Can’t Afford Healthy Food

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like living on social assistance?  In 2022 a family of four living on Ontario Works had a fixed monthly income of $2,780. According to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, the cost of a Nutritious Food Basket for a family of four is $1,046.

Here’s the math behind the most basic bills:

  • + $2,780 INCOME (from Ontario Works for a family of 4):
  • – $1,308 RENT (average rent in Thunder Bay District)
  • – $1,046 GROCERIES (cost of healthy food for a family of 4)


These limited remaining funds are expected to pay for all other basic needs like:

  • heat, hydro, telephone
  • transportation
  • clothing
  • medical costs

The situation for single households is even more dire. The total monthly income for a single person under social assistance (Ontario Works) was $844.  After paying the market rate of $732 for a bachelor apartment, only $112 remained each month for food and other essentials, such as transportation, clothing, hydro and heat.  The cost of a nutritious food basket per month was $265.56 for an average individual.

So what does all this mean?

People living on social assistance compromise what they eat so they can afford to live.

A nutritious diet is incredibly important for living a healthy life. People who eat lower amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and more salt, sugar, and fat are at a greater risk for diet-related illnesses. This is a reality that affects the thousands of people in the area—young children, adults, and seniors—living on social assistance.

Source: Thunder Bay District Health Unit. (2022). Hungry for Change in the Thunder Bay District19

Nutritious Food Basket

Each year the Thunder Bay District Health Unit conducts the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey, as mandated by the Ontario Public Health Standards. The survey is done in 6 grocery stores (5 in the city and one in the District) to price 67 food items to determine the lowest available price for healthy food. Over the last 10 years, the results consistently show that social assistance and minimum wage rates are insufficient to cover the cost of a basic nutritious diet after paying for other basic living expenses.

Facts About Food Insecurity in Thunder Bay

1 in 7 households
in the Thunder Bay District are food insecure and not able to access healthy food.

on average,
8,392 households
received social assistance each month in Thunder Bay in 2020.

of Canadian households that are food insecure have income from employment, yet they are still unable to afford enough food.

A family of 4 needs to use 35% of their social assistance income to eat healthy, compared to only 11% for  a family of 4 with a median Ontario income.