New normal calls for new food budgeting


5 July 2020

Dr Chantell Witten


On March 26 2020, the president declared a national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it started to emerge in South Africa. Since then and several weeks into the lockdown, Statistics SA has provided evidence that many intuitively knew would be more devastating to households than the Coronavirus itself – loss of income and the negative effects that follow hunger. Stats SA reported that the percentage of respondents receiving no income increased from 5.2% before the lockdown to 15.4% by the sixth week of the national lockdown.

Given that the majority of South Africans depend on the informal labour market, such as informal traders and casual workers, this lack of income would hit millions of households. Furthermore, Stats SA also reported a decrease in formal wage/salary earners for the same period, from 76.6% before the national lockdown to 66.7% by the sixth week of the lockdown.

While South Africa is food secure at a national level, millions of households are food insecure. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 1996 definition of food security, this simply means that there is not enough food at all times for all the people in a household to have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

In July 2019, the measurement of extreme poverty – the food poverty line – was raised to R561 (using April 2019 prices) per person per month, which was up from R547 last year. This is the amount of money that Stats SA calculates an individual requires “to afford the minimum required daily energy intake” of 2100 calories per day.

COVID-19 brings with it much uncertainty and many unintended negative effects. While we seek out strategies to support mental wellbeing and emotional resilience, we also need to remain physically healthy. Good nutrition is fundamental to good health and wellbeing.

South Africa has a set of 10 healthy eating guidelines that promote the principles of eating more unprocessed foods, eating more vegetables and fruit, reducing the use of fats and oils and reducing the intake of sugar and salt.

Good nutrition starts with good food and sometimes good food can cost more, so it is important to use your food budget wisely.

Planning your meals in advance and sticking to a food plan will limit opportunities to spend money on items that are not on the plan; planning ahead also means you can take advantage of good prices, especially as food prices are on the increase and will continue to rise.

As we navigate the new normal post-COVID times, let us keep mealtimes and meal preparation a fun family activity. Discovering new foods and different tastes can be as exciting as travelling to a new place.

  • Dr Witten is with the Division of Health Professions Education at the University of the Free State.




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