Why I Don’t Follow the USDA Cost of Food at Home Plans

This post may contain affiliate links. See full disclosure here.

Did you know that the USDA has a list of how much money we should be spending on food?

It is actually a tiered list. The USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food states “The Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost and Liberal Food Plans each represent a nutritious diet at a different cost. The Thrifty Food Plan is the basis for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) allotments.”

You can access a list of food costs from 1994 to present at the USDA website.  The cost is broken down by male/female and age.  For my family of 5 we break down like this;

Child 2-3 years
Female 14-18 x2
Female 19-50
Male 19-50

Using the 2011 annual average our weekly food costs fall between $172 (Thrifty Plan) and $327 (Liberal Plan).

Do you wonder how the USDA comes up with these amounts?

At the bottom of the chart there is a link to a PDF for the Thrifty Plan and a separate PDF for the Low, Moderate and Liberal Plans.  These are quite extensive reports at 64 pages and 80 pages in length.  They involved measuring food and following the nutritional guidelines outlined in the (now defunct) food pyramid.  In addition, the USDA also has a menu planner Recipes and Tips for Healthy Thrifty Meals (this was put out in 2000). All of this put together is a good reason why we do not subscribe to this food plan.  It is developed on faulty information.

That said, the menu planner actually has a couple of decent suggestions if you remember that this is the USDA we are talking about who are anti-fat, anti-salt, anti-everything-good-for-you and have their own version of ‘healthy’ products (that just keep us unhealthy).

A few things that I do appreciate in the booklet is the suggestions for batch cooking, meal planning, buying fruits in season and making a shopping list. They share a 2-week Thrifty Menu Plan that, to be quite honest, makes me extremely sad to read. It is heavy in margarine, white bread, cereal and specifies 1% milk.   Remember, this booklet is titled Recipes and Tips for HEALTHY Thrifty Meals.  Sigh.  Considering that this is modeled after the food pyramid, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

The Food Pyramid was recently replaced by a Plate and an updated 7-Day menu goes along with it. This new menu points out that these are foods at a moderate cost but then says ‘the cost of this menu is less than the average amount spent for food, per person in a four person family‘ so I’m not really sure which or if it falls under one of the Food Spending Plans .  While it has less white bread, we still see low fat cheeses and now fat-free milk.  Food Pyramid or Plate, both have serious issues.  Take a look at this short video with Sally Fallon Morell (author of Nourishing Traditions and President of the Weston A. Price Foundation) discussing the USDA Food Pyramid .

I don’t share this information with you just to complain about the USDA and the issues with the Food Pyramid or Plate or the menu plans they put out.  I share this with you to hopefully offer a solution. A real food solution.

As the second installment in the series Someone Else’s Shoes, my family will be following the Thrifty Food Plan Monetary Guidelines.

I do want to make it understood from the start, this is a Thrifty Food Plan monetary experience.

It is not a ‘food stamp’ experience.

While the Thrifty Food Plan is used as a SNAP allotment guideline, that is not the purpose of this experience.

The purpose of this experience is solely to make up an alternative purchasing and menu plan to the one presented as a Thrifty option by the USDA.  This will be an actual healthy and nourishing menu plan based on real/whole/traditional foods and not fake foods.

This experience will kick off on Sunday. I’ll post the rules of this challenge and my initial ‘game plan’. (Check out the Kick Off post here) Just like with the last experience week, I’ll post updates a few times during the week.  And just like with the last experience I have a super awesome Giveaway to go along.

Since this experience is based on the USDA Cost of Food at Home you need something great in which to bake, serve and store that food.

How about this spectacular Pyrex 12 Piece Bake, Serve and Store Set?

This set is a $35 value and with the containers being glass it is great alternative to plastic. Plus they can go in the oven!

How do you enter?

Required: You must sign up for my weekly newsletter and be signed up when the drawing is held. Sign up is easy—–

When you sign up for my newsletter, you will not only be eligible for this (and every) Giveaway/Sweepstakes but you’ll also have access to my free eBook. Read more about that here.

Once you have signed up for my newsletter leave a comment below, remember this entry is mandatory and you must be signed up for my email when the drawing is held.

Optional: Want additional entries? Add a separate comment for each task.

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Be sure to leave a comment for each separate entry!


The Details/Fine Print

This Giveaway/Sweepstakes will close on Friday, March 9 at 9PM (MST). The winner will be drawn via random.org and announced on Sunday, March 11.    You must be 18 or over to enter.  This giveaway/sweepstakes is sponsored solely by me (Millie). And the prize is purchased by me and mailed directly to the winner.  This is a sweepstakes which means that the winner will be chosen at random.  Entries will be verified. No purchase is necessary but in order to win you must be signed up for my weekly newsletter at the time of the drawing and you must have done the task your winning entry indicated (what’s this mean? If you leave a comment telling me that you follow me on Twitter and that is the winning entry then you must be signed up for my email and following me on Twitter).  I will announce the winner on Sunday, March 11 and will also email the winner. Winner must contact me within 48 hours. Void where prohibited by law.

Photo Credits:  Cowboy Boots, Converse shoes, Sally Fallon Video, Ballet Slippers, Bake and Serve set from Amazon

See all posts in this series: Kick Off/Rules, Shopping Results

This post contains affiliate links. Read more about that here.  Read about the Real Food for Less Money Privacy Policy here.

Again, the USDA Cost of Food at Home Thrifty Plan Experience kicks off on Sunday.  See you then!

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 MillieCopper.com.


  1. Nancy

    Just found your blog. Looking forward to exploring it and learning! Hope I win the giveaway

  2. Julie

    I signed up for your newsletter, and am looking forward to reading more about the food guide budgets. Thanks for some interesting reads!

  3. Bren Ward

    I have been living frugally most of my 62 years and believe in doing so even more in the present economy and teach others how to do so.

    I am definitely into REAL FOOD. In an effort to be prudent while eating fresh, we have put in Vegetable and Herb Gardens and a small Home Orchard of a large variety of Fruit Trees, Berries and Vines. I preserve some in a variety of ways (to include root veggies) and give some away and share what friends and neighbors give us as well… in a effort to encourage Neighbors to Help Neighbors. I keep myself abreast as to Medicinal Herbs as well, some of which I grow; for I believe eating healthy can include them as part of our balanced diet.

    As a habit, I purchase what is on sale and am able to stock up and thus save in the long run.

    Am delighted to find your blog!

  4. robin

    I commented kinda backwards… I’m also signed up for your newsletter and have confirmed it. Thanks! cokelush at gmail

  5. Bren Ward

    Sorry, wrong URL listed the first time I posted.

    Oh, and I follow you, have liked you, and tweeted you and am recommending some of your Articles on Facebook. *grin

    Like I said, am delighted to find you as a resource worth sharing and talking about.

  6. Bren Ward

    Oops… and I signed up for your Newsletter, (am under the impression we are suppose to post this info, hope I am right). Need to go confirm it now.

    Thanks by the way, for the give away.

  7. Tania J

    I’ve been following you on facebook and signed up for your newsletter! What a fun giveaway!

  8. DrAmy Butler

    I’m so happy that you’re putting info out there and helping people understand that you can be healthy without spending a fortune. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  9. Umm Lam'yaa

    Hi I am writing to enter for glassware I am getting rid of all plastics and this would be soo helpful for me right now. I signed up for newsletter and FB page

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