As part of a comprehensive programme to prevent non-communicable disease in South Africa, there is a need to develop public education campaigns on healthy eating. Urban populations of lower socioeconomic status are a priority target population. This study involved formative research to guide the development of a nutrition resource appropriate to the budgetary constraints and information needs of poor households in the major urban centres of South Africa. Twenty-two focus groups were convened to explore the target audience’s knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and practices as they related to healthy eating and their views about the proposed nutrition resource (N = 167). A brief questionnaire assessed eating and cooking practices among focus group participants. Key informant interviews with eight dieticians/nutritionists working with this population added to the focus group findings. The research identified important issues to take into account in the development of the resource. These included the need to: directly address prevalent misconceptions about healthy eating and unhealthy eating practices; increase self-efficacy regarding the purchasing and preparation of healthy food; represent diverse cultural traditions and consider the issues of affordability and availability of food ingredients. This study demonstrates the value of using formative research in the design of nutrition-related communication in a multicultural, poor, urban South African setting.