Kick Off: Thrifty Food Plan Week

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How much do you spend per week on groceries? Do you fall within the USDA guidelines? For my family of 5 the USDA Cost of Food at Home Plans say we should be spending between $172 and $327 per week.

These numbers fall under 4 different categories; Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate and Liberal.

You can check out the graph and see where your family falls.  Different ages and sexes are given different weekly dollar amounts.

This month’s experience week for my series Someone Else’s Shoes, is focused on the USDA Cost of Food at Home Thrifty Plan

Why am I doing this for experience week?

The USDA uses the Thrifty amount as a basis for figuring out SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps).  While this is not the amount that most people would receive on food stamps, this is used to determine the allotment.  In an effort to be helpful, the USDA also puts out a PDF publication Recipes and Tips for Healthy Thrifty Meals

Included in the PDF is a 2 week menu plan. Overall, it does offer some decent money saving tips but the menu plan is not very good from a real/whole/traditional foods stand point. I know, what do I expect? This is the USDA producers of the food pyramid (now plate) that we are talking about.

The USDA’s idea of ‘healthy’ foods is margarine and non fat milk.   I don’t know how to tell them this, but margarine is not healthy!  Butter on the other hand has a wonderful vitamin profile and contains ingredients that help with brain function and development among many other things. Skim milk can cause nutrient defencies and actually cause a person to gain weight, the exact opposite of what it is believed to help with.  And the fact that this skim milk is pasteurized and homogenized puts another nail in it’s coffin.

During this experience week,  I’ll share a menu plan using the $172 budget. The goal is to create this menu planned based on the real/whole/traditional foods diet that we normally consume. 

Sounds easy enough, right?  When I first starting thinking of this I though that $172 would be a piece of cake. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered just how easy it would be. 

Last year, our weekly food spending average was less than that. But because of the way we make purchases, $172 wasn’t spent on the foods we would eat that week. One week I might buy all of our beef, milk and vegetables. The next week I might order our Azure Standard items. The following week might be internet orders such as coconut oil but never the food that needed to be consumed that week.

And in my thinking, if a person is suddenly switching from a Standard American Diet (SAD) to a real foods diet they will probably not have foods on hand from prior weeks. They may be starting from scratch.  So then the question became, “can I make a menu plan for the week spending $172 and needing to purchase every single item for that menu plan.”

The Rules:

One week, $172

All food eaten at home (the guidelines the USDA uses) will be from this $172.  This includes all ingredients to make the meals. Yes, people probably have things like salt on hand but if one is new to real foods, it is possibly not sea salt.  

I can utilize ‘free’ sources if they are available. What does this mean? I know several people that I can get a kombucha mother from for no cost. This would be a free source to obtain a necessary ingredient to make kombucha.  I also make water kefir, but since I am the only person I know that makes water kefir, I don’t have a free source for the grains necessary to make water kefir.  If I plan to make water kefir this week, I need to factor in the cost of the grains.  You may be able to find a free source for things like a kombucha scoby, water or dairy kefir grains or even sourdough starter by checking with the Weston A. Price chapter leader nearest you.  No guarantees, but that is where I would start looking for these things if I was unable to order them from a commercial source. 

3 meals per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) plus a snack for everyone and a second snack for Christopher (age 3). Meals away from home do not count (per USDA guidelines). I may have a lunch out later in the week which will not be factored into this amount.  My girls are home from school this week (spring break).  Joe takes a packed lunch to work each day but since he takes food from home and doesn’t ever eat out this is included in the $172 amount.

Food can be purchased from anywhere.  Even though the USDA uses the Thrifty Plan as a guideline for SNAP benefits, this is not a ‘food stamp’ experience. Food can be purchased from stores that accept SNAP benefits or not.  Or from farmers, ranchers, etc.

The week starts on Monday and runs through Sunday (I planned to start on Sunday(today) and run until Saturday but we are going visiting today and it didn’t seem right to start today).

I’ll share how it is going every few days with the next post on Tuesday. That will be the “Big Reveal”.  The foods we purchased for our money. I have to say, I thought $172 would go a loooong ways.  Truthfully, $172 doesn’t go as far as I thought it would. 

As mentioned earlier, one thing that I wanted to discover with this experience is what kind of alternative menu plan could be developed for the same amount of money.  I’ll be keeping track of everything we eat and putting together a menu plan (with recipes/links) as an alternative to the USDA’s menu plan.

See other posts in this series: Experience Announcement, this post, Shopping Results

What do you think of this experience? Do you think $172 sounds like alot or not enough for a family of five for one week?

Millie Copper
Millie Copper is a Wyoming wife and mama. After reading Nourishing Traditions in early 2009, her family began transforming their diet to whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods—a little at a time while stretching their food dollars. Millie is passionate to share how, with a little creativity, anyone can transition to a real foods diet without overwhelming their food budget. Millie began blogging in late 2009 and has amassed a collection of frugal recipes and methods. Her specialties include cooking with wild game and creating “Stretchy Beans”. Discovering a love of writing, she has penned four books focusing on healthy eating on a budget and is trying her hand at fiction writing. Learn more at


    1. Post

      Hey Laurie!

      I’m glad you were able to revive them. I ended up ordering some more with the hopes I don’t kill these 🙂 I’m going to put some back in the freezer just in case…

  1. Diane

    You should do fine on $172/week. My weekly budget for our family of eight is $200/week but that also includes dog/cat/fish food, paper/plastic, toiletries, school supplies, garden seeds, etc, etc, etc — basically anything that comes into the house that isn’t a special, big purchase.

    I’m glad you’re doing this. I’m excited to see what you come up with so I can steal some ideas!

    1. Post

      Hi Diane,
      I think $172 will work good. The only real ‘issue’ is that I’m assuming that I’m starting with an empty kitchen. Which means this week, I didn’t get extra things that I normally have on hand. Spices, seasonings and molasses especially. Going forward I’d be able to add these in. In our ‘normal’ life we averaged $152 a week last year included most of the stuff you listed. But it is so different shopping with a set weekly amount insteading making bulk purchases, ya know?

      I’d love for you to chime in with your ideas/suggestions as this goes along!

      1. Diane

        Boy, do I understand about starting from scratch on that! We moved 1 1/2 years ago and had almost no pantry starting up again. I’m still working on stocking the bulk purchases. I save $5 here and $10 there out of the shopping budget and save for them, bit by bit. I was finally able to buy 5 gallons of coconut oil last week. Things like that sure do take time and, while you’re saving for them, you (well, I did anyway) have to take some shortcuts and buy some compromises now and then.

        Another thing we do if we can’t afford something is do it ourselves. We have chickens for eggs & meat and we grow a huge garden. This year, because we’re unable to find affordable grassfed meat & dairy, we’re buying dual-purpose goats to fill that need for us. Of course, not everyone can do that but everyone can get creative with their own situation.

  2. Marcella F

    I am really interested in this series. I really want to know how you are going to work the plan.

    I am fairly new to eating traditional food, so 172 doesn’t seem to be enough. I know that buying in bulk saves money in the long run, but it’s just having the money to make the purchase in the first place.

    I just found your blog last week and I’m so happy that I did!

    1. Post

      Hi Marcella,

      You are right! Finding the $$ to begin to make those bulk purchases can seem very challenging.
      I hope you find some tips that help you.

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