Americans are spending a smaller portion of their income on food - 11.8 percent - than they did in preceding years, a government report says, despite some hefty price increases at the grocery.

The figure, based on 1990 expenditures, was down 0.1 percent from the preceding year and represented the latest in a long line of decreases. In 1960, Americans spent 17.6 percent of their disposable income on food. The figure has been below 12 percent since 1988."This percentage has declined over the years because personal income has risen more than food expenditures," the Agriculture Department said Monday in its annual "Food Costs" review.

Food prices were forecast to increase by 2 percent-5 percent this year. If correct, it would be the first time since 1985 that food prices increased less than the overall inflation rate. They spurted 5.8 percent in each of the past two years.

The recession is expected to dampen consumer demand for food, which would reduce the likelihood of price increases. Also restraining prices, economists said recently, would be the ample supply of food, despite the year-end freeze that damaged California's crops.

Fresh fruits are projected to show the largest price increases this year, up 4 percent-7 percent, but prices for pork, poultry, eggs, dairy products and fresh vegatable are forecast to fall. Egg prices could drop as much as 10 percent.

The average household spends about $4,188 a year on food, according to an Labor Department survey. It said married couples with children spend an average of $5,860 a year on food, or $113 a week, if the oldest child is between 6 and 17.