Food Plans

Food plans have been developed for buying food at different levels of spending. Food plans have been in use since the 1920’s.

The Cost of Food at Home food plan is the work of the Human Nutrition Information Service, Agricultural Research Service of the USDA. The plan takes into account revisions of the Recommended Dietary Allowances and changed food consumption practices as revealed in the most recent USDA household survey. The costs are estimated and published monthly; they are modified periodically in response to changes in:

The published estimated costs are U.S. average costs. Regional costs are published once each year, in March, in the Family Economics Review.

There are four food plans:

The plans provide sufficient food so that all meals can be eaten at home or carried out of the home. The low-cost and moderate-cost plans provide diets consistent with those of most persons. The liberal-cost plan permits greater variety, more meat, and more fruits and vegetables than the other plans.

Some tips when using the food plans follow:

The food plans of the different levels differ in:

Buying practices across all food plans differ in the extent to which:

Establishing a Food Budget

Establishing a budget for food should be relatively simple - determine food needs and then decide how they will be purchased. However, it is not that easy.

Buying food needs according to a food plan means limiting food choices more or less depending on the plan, except for the liberal-cost plan. The more conservative the plan, the more food choices are restricted, and the more time and human energy the meal manager must devote to meals in:

In addition, more knowledge, skills, and abilities are required.

There are three possible ways to establish a food budget. They are described as follows.

Family preference based

Begin with food needs and decide objectively how much to spend to buy them.

Choose a Food Plan
Select a spending plan from among the published costs of plans. Choose the plan that fits income and spending commitments. It is not possible to state that any given percentage of income should or should not be spent for food; however, a percentage could be more generous for families without children than for families with children.

Spending analysis

Modify objectively the current pattern of spending.

The meals typical of the different food plans, or levels of spending, have certain identifying characteristics, such as:


Sample food plan menus
Food plan/meal Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Orange juice1
Peanut butter sandwich
Carrot and celery sticks
Baked beans2 and frankfurters
Hash brown potatoes
Orange juice1
Coffee cake
Grilled cheese sandwich
Green beans2
Roast beef
Quartered potatoes
Ice milik
Orange juice1
Scrambled eggs
English muffin
Bologna/cheese sandwich
Assorted relish tray
Baked ham
Scalloped potatoes
Green beans1
Lettuce salad
Hot roll
Grapefruit halves
French toast
Assorted cold cuts
Assorted sliced cheeses
Assorted relish tray
Buttered bread
Potato chips
French onion dip5
Baked ham
Potatoes Au Gratin
Tomatoes and mixed green salad
Assorted fresh fruits
Hot biscuits5
Cake5 with ice cream

Note: Milk available for children at all meals; for adults at two meals. Serve instant coffee at two meals daily for thrify plan; other plans, as desired.

1 Frozen 4 Instant
2 Canned 5 Ready-prepared
3 Mix  

For a printer-friendly version of this chart, click on the icon to download.
Note: Must have Acrobat Reader.


Back to top


© Copyright (2002) Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, 47907. All Rights Reserved.