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USDA Food Plans

A healthy diet can help individuals achieve and maintain good health and reduce their risk of chronic disease throughout all stages of life. Countless foods and beverages are available for purchase, ranging in nutrient density and price. As such, a healthy diet can be achieved at many cost levels, including on a limited budget.

USDA has produced food plans since 1894 to illustrate how a healthy diet can be achieved at various costs. USDA food plans are made up of two components:

  1. Market baskets defining weekly quantities of food categories in their purchasable forms that, together, make up a healthy, practical diet for various age-sex groups.
  2. Cost levels defining the dollar value of each market basket given national average food prices.

USDA produces four food plans at successively higher cost levels: the Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans. USDA updated the cost levels and market baskets of the Thrifty Food Plan in 2021 and published cost adjustments to reflect food prices in Alaska and Hawaii in 2023. The Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans cost levels were last set in 1983 and their respective market baskets were last reevaluated in 2007. USDA updates the cost levels of the four food plans monthly for food price inflation using the Consumer Price Index.

Thrifty Food Plan

The Thrifty Food Plan outlines nutrient-dense foods and beverages, their amounts, and associated costs that can be purchased on a limited budget to support a healthy diet through nutritious meals and snacks at home. Federal law specifies that the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan in June serves as the basis for setting maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit allotments in the following federal fiscal year beginning each October 1.

USDA reevaluated the Thrifty Food Plan in 2021 to reflect updated data on food prices, food composition, and consumption patterns, and current dietary guidance in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 . USDA took a careful and considered approach, using the same underlying mathematical model used in previous reviews and only making changes if there was clear and convincing evidence to do so. The methods used to reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan were peer reviewed by subject matter experts from other USDA agencies. The Thrifty Food Plan, 2021 replaces the Thrifty Food Plan, 2006 and is the first in a series of planned regular updates.

While the Thrifty Food Plan, 2021 reflects national average food prices and applies to the contiguous 48 states and DC, residents of Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories may face substantially different food prices. By law, separate cost adjustments are made in the Thrifty Food Plan to account for food prices in Alaska and Hawaii. In 2023, USDA updated these cost adjustments in the Thrifty Food Plan Cost Estimates for Alaska and Hawaii report. Information on SNAP implementation of the updated Thrifty Food Plan cost estimates for Alaska and Hawaii can be found in this policy memo. In response to a Congressional Directive, USDA also commissioned the Measuring the Cost of a Thrifty Food Plan in Puerto Rico study.

As stipulated in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (PL 115–334, the 2018 Farm Bill), USDA must reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan every 5 years. Since the first reevaluation under this new requirement was published in 2021, the next reevaluation is anticipated in 2026. The Thrifty Food Plan 2026 Initial Study Plan outlines the overall scope of the analysis, including the population, type of analysis, and data sources identified to conduct the reevaluation. It also includes a description of ongoing research, quality assurance commitments, plans for project management, and the definitions of key terms.

Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans

The Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans outline nutrient-dense foods and beverages, their amounts, and associated costs that can be purchased on three successively higher budgets, each supporting a healthy diet through nutritious meals and snacks at home. The Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plan are used by various federal and state agencies and the court system.

The Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans were last reevaluated in 2007, maintaining the same inflation-adjusted costs as those of previous editions.

  • The Low-Cost Food Plan represents food expenditures in the second from the bottom quartile of food spending;
  • the Moderate-Cost Food Plan, food expenditures in the second from the top quartile of food spending; and
  • the Liberal Food Plan, food expenditures in the top quartile of food spending.

The market baskets are based on dietary standards, food composition, consumption data, and food prices current at the time. The calculation of these food plans involved the same optimization model that was used to calculate the Thrifty Food Plan, 2006 with different cost levels and different assumptions regarding food waste.

Questions? For technical inquiries, contact: FNS.FoodPlans@usda.gov.

Page updated: July 08, 2024