Objective To define a basket of foods that could be used to monitor trends in the affordability of healthy food in the Illawarra region. Design A reference family of five was defined reflecting the population of the Illawarra region. A draft basket of foods was selected based on recommendations of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE), and using information on typical eating patterns from the 1995 National Nutrition Survey and data from local supermarket sales. Products were chosen to conform where possible to the National Heart Foundation guidelines for acceptability in the Pick the Tick food approval program. Seven day menus were devised for each family member using the draft basket of foods and analysed for nutrient content compared to Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDI), and conformance with quantified targets related to Dietary Guidelines for Australians. The final quantities of foods to include in the Illawarra Healthy Food Basket (IHFB) were calculated from the menus, using estimates of edible portion from Australian food composition tables. Main outcome measures Nutritional adequacy of the food basket as determined by comparison with recommended numbers of serves from the AGHE, the RDIs for the reference family and other quantified targets related to the Dietary Guidelines for Australians. Results A final basket of 57 foods (44 core foods and 13 extra items) was defined that conformed with dietary guidelines, provided at least 95% of energy requirements, and exceeded the recommended intakes of protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fibre for all members of the reference family- with exception of zinc for the 65 year old female (94% RDI). The sodium content of the food basket exceeded the recommended upper intakes by 27%. The 13 extra food items make up 6.2% of the total mass of food and contribute 19% of the total energy. Conclusion The IHFB represents a nutritionally adequate weekly basket of foods for a reference family of five that can be used to monitor changes in the affordability of healthy food.