New research reveals households on low incomes need to spend up to 1/3 of take home income to afford a healthy food basket

Research highlights challenges facing low-income households in balancing the expense of a basic, acceptable and nutritious food basket while meeting other weekly household expenses.

Tuesday 02 July, 2019. New research¹ by safefood has revealed some families on low income need to spend up to one third (33%) of their take home income to afford a basic food basket that is acceptable and meets nutritional needs. In general, households on a low-income tend to eat less well, have poorer health outcomes with higher levels of excess weight and its complications.

The report found that the composition and location of households had an impact on costs; those households with children, in particular with teenagers, and those living in rural areas need to spend more. Households where the only income was from state benefits spent a larger percentage of income on food than those households where one adult is in employment.

Introducing the report, Ray Dolan, CEO, safefood said; 

This study confirms how food poverty is an everyday reality for 1 in 10 households in Ireland. Managing on a tight budget means that families with children, single adults living alone and pensioners have to make stark choices in how they spend their money. Food spending is the flexible element of the household budget and people often fill up on cheap food that’s nutritionally poor when prioritising other bills that need to be paid.”

Continuing, Dr Marian O’Reilly, Chief Specialist in Nutrition, safefood said; “While there has been a small decline in the proportion of income needed to be spent on an acceptable and nutritious food basket, it’s still very high. At safefood, we are supporting low-income households through our Community Food Initiatives programme, practical online resources to help with meal planning, and our START campaign to help achieve small wins in the weekly food basket that will have a positive impact on our health. We’re also working hard to maintain the importance of Food Poverty as a policy issue”.

Research lead Dr Bernadette MacMahon of the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice continued; “This is our third report into the cost of a basic but healthy food basket in the Republic of Ireland. Because the contents of the food baskets in our study were put together by people themselves as a minimum to meet their nutritional, social and psychological needs, this gives us an evidence-based measure that is grounded in the lived experience of Irish households.”

The research found the cost of a healthy food basket for different² low-income household types: A two-parent, two-child household needs to spend between 22% and 33% of income (€128 to €153 a week). A one-parent, two-child family, needs to spend between 15% and 28% of income (€97 a week). In addition, for a retired couple dependent on the State pension, the cost of a healthy food basket is 19% of income (€83 per week).

The report “What is the cost of a healthy food basket in the Republic of Ireland in 2018?” is available to download from

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¹What is the cost of a healthy food basket in the Republic of Ireland in 2018? safefood

² The six household types analysed for the study were

  • Two parent & two children (pre-school & primary school age)
  • Two parent & two children (primary & secondary school age)
  • One parent & two children (pre-school & primary school age)
  • Single adult, Male, working age, living alone
  • Pensioner couple
  • Female pensioner living alone

Editor’s notes

  • The contents of the food basket costed in the study were based on menus put together by people themselves
  • People selected an acceptable food basket in terms of taste and menu choices, while also meeting the social needs of a household for example hosting visitors or special occasions like birthdays.
  • The food baskets were reviewed by nutritionists from University of York to make sure they met the nutritional guidelines of the Food Pyramid and price-checked accordingly. 
  • To put this research in the context of what households are currently spending, the most recent data for ROI (2015-2016) from the Household Budget Survey* shows that the average household spends 14.7% (€123.28) of their weekly expenditure on food. This figure rises to 17.3% for very disadvantaged households (CSO 2017) 

*NB: The safefood research and the Household Budget Survey are two different datasets that cannot be directly compared – it provides a reference indicating current spend is actually much lower than this research shows is needed.