Balancing the diet and the budget: Food purchasing practices of food-insecure families in New Zealand


  • C. Smith, PhD, Research Fellow
  • W.R. Parnell, PhD, NZRD, Senior Lecturer
  • R.C. Brown, PhD, Senior Lecturer
  • A.R. Gray, BCom Hons, Biostatistician



The aims of this study were to examine total food expenditure and the types of food purchased in food-insecure households with children, to compare these by severity of food insecurity (moderate or low food security) and furthermore to estimate food expenditure as a percentage of net household income.


The study was conducted in Dunedin, New Zealand (NZ) (from June 2009 to May 2010), and included low-income (≤NZ$45 000/year), food-insecure households with children (n = 165). The main food preparer was interviewed to determine the food security status of the household. Households collected food shopping receipts and recorded all food that was purchased for four weeks.


Households reported spending NZ$132/week on food. The greatest percentage of food dollars was allocated to the food group meat, fish and poultry (14.5%), followed by fruit and vegetables (13.7%). Households with low food security reported spending less money compared to households with moderate food security on total food and the food groups fruit and vegetables and cereals but not on the food groups meat, fish and poultry or dairy and eggs (excluding milk). Food expenditure was estimated to be more than 30% of net income for households with an annual income of less than NZ$35 000.


For the core foods fruit, vegetables and cereals, reported food spending was less for households with low food security compared to households with moderate food security. This is likely to contribute to poor health in addition to being an undesirable and stressful condition for a household.