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USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food

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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, and these range in nutrient density and price. As such, a healthy diet can be achieved at many cost levels, including on a limited budget. Of the four USDA food plans that describe how much it can cost to eat a healthy diet at successively higher cost levels, the Thrifty Food Plan is the lowest cost.

Thrifty Food Plan, 2021

Through its market baskets -- weekly amounts of food and beverage categories – 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. As directed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill, and for the first time since 2006, USDA reevaluated the Thrifty Food Plan 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 re-evaluate the Thrifty Food Plan were peer reviewed by subject matter experts from other USDA agencies.

Effective October 1, 2021, the market basket costs indicated in the Thrifty Food Plan, 2021 report will serve as the basis for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) maximum benefit allotments.

The Thrifty Food Plan, 2021 report provides transparency on the re-evaluation process, making information available to researchers who may want to reproduce the analysis. Further, the online supplement provides the input data compiled exclusively for the development for the Thrifty Food Plan, 2021. These data include Modeling and Market Basket Categories and food price data that were included in the final version. For researchers interested in reproducing the TFP optimization model, the GAMS code and associated input files are available to download.

The market basket costs in the Thrifty Food Plan, 2021 report apply to the contiguous 48 states and the District of Columbia. USDA is reevaluating the separate Thrifty Food Plans for Alaska and Hawaii, the first time a reevaluation has occurred since the plans were created in the late 1970s. The update will be completed by December 2022. In the interim, USDA will estimate the Thrifty Food Plans for Alaska and Hawaii by applying an adjustment factor to the costs in the Thrifty Food Plan, 2021.

The Thrifty Food Plan, 2021 is the first in a series of planned regular updates. As stipulated by the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA must reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan every 5 years. Throughout the 5-year cycle to reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan, the cost is adjusted each month to reflect inflation using the Consumer Price Index.

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

Reevaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan begins the process to address the three other USDA Food Plans: the Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans, which will be published on this webpage.


Measuring the Cost of a Thrifty Food Plan in Puerto Rico

In response to a Congressional Directive, USDA commissioned the Measuring the Cost of a Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) in Puerto Rico study. The purpose of the study was to provide USDA with options for measuring the cost of a TFP in Puerto Rico, where food benefits are currently provided through the Nutrition Assistance Program. To identify options, a study team conducted an environmental scan, convened an expert study group, conducted interviews with subject matter experts, and synthesized information across sources. The final options are described in the report, along with each option's advantages and disadvantages, as well as cost and timeline to implement.


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Updated: 08/16/2021