The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion issues monthly USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food Reports that estimate the current weekly/monthly costs of a nutritious diet at four different levels (thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the nutritional bases of the Food Plans.
Here are some examples from the USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food Report for February 2019:
Family of 4: Couple (Male & Female), 19-50 years and children 2-3 and 4-5 years: Thrifty Food Plan = $130.70/week; Low-Cost Food Plan = $167.10/week; Moderate-Cost Food Plan = $206.10/week; Liberal Food Plan = $254.80/week.
One person (Female), 19-50 years: Thrifty Food Plan = $38.30/week; Low-Cost Food Plan = $48.50/week; Moderate-Cost Food Plan = $59.30/week; Liberal Food Plan = $76.10/week.
My own grocery budget has been $1.50/per meal for over a year. I take these steps each week:
- Estimate the number of meals to purchase for. One week equals up to 21 meals per person.
- Multiply the # meals by $1.50 to determine the maximum to spend on groceries. (No more than $31.50 for 21 meals.)
- Check what is available at home and list the foods needed for enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to meet MyPlate recommendations.
- Limit purchases of processed foods.
- Use a calculator to keep track of the total. Put an items back on the shelf, if over budget.
- Count (and take pictures of) the number of meals eaten. After consuming the number of meals shopped for, then I can go shopping again. This encourages portioning foods so they will last.
A basis of the USDA Food Plans is that all meals and snacks are prepared at home. I have fun preparing quick (many in 10-20 minutes), delicious meals for $1.50 each. The Thrifty Food Plan tries to offer a realistic reflection of the time available for food preparation, especially with increased expectations for work in assistance programs. It actually allows more prepared foods and requires somewhat fewer preparations from scratch.
Not convinced you can eat enough fruits and vegetables on a limited diet? Check out the Fruit and Vegetable Prices, 2016: Average cost per cup equivalent interactive chart. MyPlate guidelines recommend consuming about 2 cups of fruit per day. Depending on the fruits you choose, 2 cups might only cost $0.60-1.40 total. Every day on my $4.50/day food budget, I eat 5 servings—fresh, frozen, and/or canned—of fruits and vegetables.
Here are a few photos of my meals:
The Thrifty Meal Plan allows about $1.82 per meal and the Moderate Plan allows about $2.82 per meal. Choose the budget amount that is right for you and make some simple changes. Celebrate Your Plate offers lots of great ideas for meal planning and budgeting. Whether you plan to spend $1.50 per meal or $3.00 per meal, you can stick to both your budget and MyPlate—no fooling!