Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Does it cost too much to eat healthy?

Find your own best answer with the new Thrifty Food Plan calculator.

This calculator is a tool for learning about tradeoffs between the nutrition quality and costs of foods available in the United States. Your challenge is to create a nutritious, affordable, and tasty food plan that meets your own nutrition policy goals.

This challenge is similar to the task faced by USDA nutritionists and economists when they developed the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). The maximum benefit level in the Food Stamp Program is based on the cost of the TFP. Every several years, USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) revises the TFP to take account of new trends in food prices, food characteristics, and consumer spending behavior. USDA's most recent TFP revision is: The Thrifty Food Plan, 2006. This report is available on the CNPP website ( To create this food plan, USDA used a mathematical algorithm that selected quantities for each food group. The quantities were chosen to be as similar as possible to the current average consumption of low-income Americans, while simultaneously meeting a cost target, nutrition standards, target levels for broad categories of foods (such as meats, dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables), and other constraints.

Our TFP Calculator is based on the same price, consumption and nutrition data that USDA used to create the official 2006 food plan. You can design your own new food plan by choosing monthly spending levels for 58 food groups. The TFP Calculator provides information on how your plan performs in terms of cost, dietary quality, and similarity to current consumption.

My coauthors are graduate students Joseph Llobrera and Flannery Campbell. We released the TFP Calculator this week as part of the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition (FPAN) working paper series at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts Univeristy. We are grateful for financial support from a USDA/ERS RIDGE small grant, although we are responsible for all opinions and errors. The Microsoft Excel file TFPCalculator.xls contains the TFP Calculator worksheets and brief instructions. The Word file UserGuide.doc contains a longer User Guide (the graphics only show up in Word's "print layout" view).

Directions are provided at the end of the User Guide to send us feedback on the worksheet itself, and also on what you learned from this tool about the affordability of nutritious food in the United States. You can also post comments here and on your own websites. Please share this tool widely.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Katie said...

I think that this is an excellent tool. My only question is why a calculator for females aged 20-50 doesn't include yogurt? A lot of us eat it for a very specific reason I'm sure you're aware of.