Using the Thrifty Food Plan to Assess the Cost of a Nutritious Diet


  • USDA's Economic Research Service provided support through a RIDGE research grant administered by the Harris School at the University of Chicago. David Betson, Craig Gundersen, and Robert LaLonde made important suggestions, and Andrea Carlson and Kenneth Hanson at USDA provided data and insight. All opinions and errors belong to the authors.


The federal government's Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) minimizes the difference between a proposed food plan and a current consumption bundle, subject to cost and nutrition constraints. This article adapted the TFP framework to estimate the cost of a nutritious diet, distinguishing between nutrition constraints based on food categories (meat, vegetables) or nutrients (saturated fat, calcium). The official cost target for the TFP was sufficient if one tolerated a very high difference from current consumption patterns, or if one used nutrition standards instead of MyPyramid food category standards. In other scenarios, with different constraints, the official cost target was insufficient.