Public health officials in Ottawa are concerned rising food costs could lead more people to cut back on healthier choices in favour of discounted junk food.

Ottawa Public Health workers found after shopping at eight different grocery stores in the city that the average family of four in Ottawa spends $745 a month to buy the food basics.

That cost is down two per cent from last year, but after a summer of drought across much of North America, economists are expecting food prices to jump four to five per cent by the new year.

"When we hear prices are expected to go up and that even more individuals in Ottawa will struggle to purchase a health diet on a monthly basis. It's a huge concern to us," said Ottawa Public Health nutritionist Jamie Hurst. 

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Michelle Schafer said her family was spending well above what they thought they should be for groceries. CBC

Grocery bill 'boggles the mind'

Ottawa resident Michelle Schafer buys groceries for her family, including her two young sons, ages 3 and 5.

She said she was surprised to see how much it was costing.

"We found that we were somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,100, sometimes $1,200 a month. Which completely blew my mind," said Schafer.

Schafer said her family cut out many of the foods that weren't essentials and then focused on finding good deals on staple items such as fruits and vegetables and meat and fish.

Even still, she says her family spends somewhere between $850 to $1,000 a month on groceries, a price she says "boggles the mind."

Ottawa Public Health's biggest concern is that people will cut out healthy foods in favour of cheaper more processed options.

According to the information they have gathered, only half the people in Ottawa eat five fruits or vegetables a day, and for many people, that number is much lower.

Health Canada recommends four to six servings of fruit and vegetables for children, seven to eight servings for teens and adult women, and eight to ten servings for men age 19 to 50.

The city's health agency is expected to release its full findings Monday to the Ottawa Board of Health.

public forum on city food issues will also be held Tuesday morning from 9 a.m. to noon at the auditorium of the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library. To attend, contact Ottawa Public Health at nutrition@ottawa.ca or call 613-580-6744.