The Thrifty Food Plan

I am currently taking an advanced community nutrition graduate course at Texas State University and was assigned to do a presentation with a partner on The Thrifty Food Plan. So for the past few weeks, my partner, Kelly and I have been doing extensive research on this topic. For those of you who do not know what the Thrifty Food Plan is, you can click here to learn a little more about it.

In short, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, gives income-eligible individuals and families a means through which to purchase approved foods at authorized food stores. These benefit levels are based on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP).

The TFP is supposed to consist of low-cost foods that meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is intended to fit into the low-income population’s regular menu, as much as possible. The MyPyramid Food Guidance System was used to develop the TFP. The USDA has since replaced MyPyramid with MyPlate.

Below you will find a podcast, blog links, and YouTube videos with people providing their opinions and experiences on the Thrifty Food Plan.

*Dr. Biediger-Friedman’s students: Once you are done viewing all of the information below (the podcast, blog links, and YouTube videos), please see the facilitated discussion at the bottom of this blog post! It requires posting a comment on this blog! *

NPR Podcast about the Thrifty Food Plan

Here’s an NPR podcast that talks about the Thrifty Food Plan in addition to food insecurity, hunger, and children’s health.

All Things Considered

Thrifty Food Plan Experiences from the Public

Here are a list of links to personal blogs that provide their opinions and experiences on the Thrifty Food Plan.

Blog Post Experiences

Living the Low Income Life Blog (2009)

Half Changed World Blog (2005)

Opinions and Information on the Thrifty Food Plan from the Public

Poverty and Policy Blog

Get Rich Slowly Blog (2007)

Food Thought Blog (2012)

Thrifty Food Plan Experiences Documented on YouTube Video 

A family of three followed the Thrifty Food Plan for one week and documented their meals and experiences each day.

Opener


Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

Day Six

Day Seven

Dr. Biediger-Friedman’s Student’s Facilitated Discussion

After reading and viewing all of the provided information on the Thrifty Food Plan, do you believe the Thrifty Food Plan is a realistic/helpful tool for low income individuals or families to use? If so, how would you, as a nutrition professional, use the Thrifty Food Plan to help your clients and/or patients to stay within their budget means? If not, why not?

Please post your answers to this blog and provide at least your first name. This will be your facilitated discussion submission!

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15 thoughts on “The Thrifty Food Plan

  1. I believe the Thrifty Meal Plan is a helpful tool for those that have access to the resources to prepare these meals. Whether or not it is realistic depends highly on the individual circumstances of the families. For example, if you do not have stove or running water, it would impair your ability to cook certain foods. Also, it would be difficult if you do not have enough SNAP benefits or cash to afford the foods on the TMP. However, you could get by if you have knowledge of and access to emergency food providers (i.e. ministries or food pantries) as the blogger explains in ‘Living the Low Income Life Blog (2009).’

    As a nutrition professional, I would like to use the TMP in cooking classes. This way, patients would have the hands-on experience and know exactly what meals they can make, how to prepare them, and approximately how many servings the recipe makes.

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  2. The TFP may not be perfect, but it can be used as a helpful tool in many situations. It may be possible under certain circumstances, to obtain a healthful diet under the constraints of the TFP. However, food and living expenses may vary greatly depending on location, as demonstrated in the NPR report on the
    Boston study. I actually challenged myself with the TFP a few years ago and was able to provide nutritious and semi-delicious food for my family for several months. Granted, it did require a considerable amount of knowledge about thrifty shopping and cooking. Also, much time was spent in meal preparation because I avoided convenience foods and made a lot from scratch. Since I was only going to school part time at that time, this may not be realistic for someone working full time or for someone with limited cooking and shopping savvy. I enjoyed the videos on eating on the TFP for one week – I am a big fan of Polyface Farms, although I am not a fan of Weston A. Price or Spam. So maybe if someone in the family can stay home and cook all day, the TMP can work. As a Nutrition professional, the TFP is a good reference point to start with, but helping clients implement it may need to involve additional assistance and instruction in learning thrifty shopping and cooking skills.

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  3. Yes, I believe in general that the TFP is a helpful tool for low income individuals to utilize when determining the food purchases they should make. However, several factors such as cooking ability, budgeting, meal planning, and available time all influence the individual’s ability to succeed in following the TFP. As a nutrition professional, I would utilize the TFP as well as the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion booklet entitled “Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals” to demonstrate to my clients successful meal planning options on the TFP. Tips such as using planned leftovers, “batch cooking” and shopping with a list can also help clients succeed in staying within their budget.

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  4. The TFP is a good low cost resource for many individuals, especially those on SNAP. But with working with individuals, it is important to say that this is a resource to use and not necessarily a complete guide. The NPR podcasts highlights an important issue of the differing cost of foods depending on region of the US. As an RD, I could use this as a starting resource for individuals with a low income but prefacing that this is a starting point. Also, by using the other resources like recipes to help provide meals with the food plan is a good way to keep families on the plan. The families will not have to think about what to cook which might temp them to grab something fast and unhealthy to eat.

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  5. The TFP implementation and utilization can help provide families with healthful meals at a low cost. I think this is a good starting point to promote change and utilize some of the resources offered through the TFP. It is imperative to note that many of the resources for meals are recipes and rely on cooking from scratch methods. Cooking from scratch may be an outdated practice for many people and should be discussed on an individualized basis with clients to assess what’s optimal for them. Although this could also be a great avenue for providing cooking classes for individuals.
    Even though the concept of the TFP program is positive there are also revisions to the program that could enhance its effectiveness. One proposed improvement is providing incentives ($.30) to participants for every SNAP dollar spent on specific fruits and vegetables. The incentive program carried out in The Healthy Incentives Pilot in Massachusetts reported an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by one-fifth of a cup and furthermore brought consumption levels 17% closer to Healthy People 2020 objectives (http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/HIP_Interim_Summary.pdf). These findings might be a great start to taking steps to improve TFP and enhance health outcomes of participants who utilize it.

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  6. I think that the Thrifty Food Plan is a good general guide to buying the most of the essentials for eating a semi-healthy diet. I think that it need to be adjusted as food prices continue to rise. The USDA’s advice is to do batch cooking and stock up when things are on sale, but how is a family supposed to do that if they can hardly afford enough food for a week? Often times, both parents are working to pay for the rest of the expenses, so there is no time to do scratch cooking either. Every family is different, so I think that it is important as RDs to help individual families make the Thrifty Food Plan work better for them. This might mean that we can teach them shortcuts on cooking from scratch, while still maintaining the budget. I think it is also important to show them how to buy from the bulk section and cook foods that require inactive cooking. For example, a can of cooked beans costs, on average, $1.19 for 2 cups of beans and a pound of dried beans usually costs $1.99 and makes 8 cups of beans. So education on how to save can be done on a individual basis in order to utilize the Thrifty Food Plan more effectively.

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  7. First of all, great idea ladies! I loved the videos and resources. Thank you very much. It would be interesting to see what Puerto Ricans would buy with that amount of money.
    Regarding the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, I consider that this tool is helpful for low income individuals and families. Like many other programs, the TFP has its limitations and will need to be combined with other benefits to be able to enhance individuals’ diets. The socioeconomic factors and built environment will definitely have an impact on the individual’s access to healthy foods. I agree that inviting friends and family to share meals is a great way to improve the variety of foods consumed, it is a pleasure to share food and it is also cost effective. To be able to accomplish what they did, people need to develop their cooking, planning and organizing skills. People really need to become “food wise”, to select ingredients that are nutritious and can be incorporated in each meal of the day. Another thing that people need to pay attention to is food waste, if they plan their meals better, they can use leftovers or combine them with something else and create a whole new meal. Creativity is key to survival! Although scratch cooking is not a realistic option for many modern families, I consider it leads to a healthier lifestyle. As a future Registered Dietitian, I would encourage families to use the TFP for priority items, suggest options in the community that can help them access additional products and really evaluate their selections to see what they are willing to change.

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  8. The TFP is a slightly unrealistic tool for low income individuals or families because it makes too many false assumptions, such as everyone has time to make food from scratch (since the ingredients are cheaper), lives near a grocer & has reliable transportation for frequent visits, lives in areas with low food cost, etc. I agree that TFP does not provide a suitable basis for determining food stamp benefits as evidenced by the struggle to stretch funds to last a whole month while attempting to purchase healthful foods. A study by the USDA reveled that food stamp households used 90% of their monthly benefits by the 3rd week. This is hard on adults, but children are even more vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies. Learning about Boston’s “heat or eat” was heartbreaking and unfortunately a common theme for many living in harsh environments.

    When I taught a Food Systems Lab, my students had to prepare a meal for 3 individuals using ~$4 and try to meet DG. Many of them became frustrated and thought it would be impossible. I explained to them that this is just an exercise for you, but it is reality for millions of Americans. I think we could all benefit from a TFP challenge and it would provide invaluable perspective. Although I feel there is a lot of room for improvement regarding the TFP, I realize it can be a helpful tool. There is no “one size fits all” model and everyone has different factors affecting their access to food, but the TFP can be a starting point to work with.

    -Taraneh Woo

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  9. The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) has a unique role in US Nutrition Policy, integrating both dietary guidance and anti-hunger policies. The food items in the TFP market basket are chosen based on the latest dietary recommendations, but the Plan serves as the basis for inflation adjustments to Food Stamp allotments. To be economical, the TFP logically assumes that most dishes are prepared from raw ingredients, which is practically impossible in low income group individuals. Also, it can’t be one size fits all as the grocery prices vary state to state and the living expenses are different for everyone. But, it can definitely assist the individuals who have affordability and accessibility to all the resources they need.
    As a nutrition professional I can use thrifty food plan calculator to assist my clients in their experimentation with modifying the food group quantities to pursue nutrition goals and also to teach them about the thrifty food shopping and cooking.

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  10. The Thrifty Food Plan is a useful tool when helping low-income individuals and families with food budgeting and meal planning. It seems that many low-income individuals are more concerned with short term planning (ie what am I going to feed my family tonight?) then planning for the long term and so this would be a valuable resource in helping them to budget for longer periods of time. With that being said, some aspects of the Thrifty Food Plan are unrealistic. I found the youtube series to be very interesting and could be empowering for low-income families to see that it is possible to eat wholesome, nutritious foods on a budget; however, this family prepared three meals per day at home. For single parents or two-working families, having every meal at home is not realistic, therefore the plan should incorporate this into the budget. Also, as the NPR podcast discussed, different areas have different costs of food and as the youtube videos discussed some people might not have the same access to healthy foods as others. These are factors that as an RD, could be discussed and used to individualize the TFP to fit the needs of the client. In combination with recipes and meal prep plans, RDs could use the TFP as a valuable resource to educate low-income families on eating healthy on a budget. It could also be used as a starting point to implement other programs such as grocery shopping tours or cooking classes that fit within the TFP.

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  11. I believe Thrifty Food Plan can be utilized as a helpful tool for low income families assuming they have the resources to prepare the meals inside the home. Accordingly as NPR report demonstrated, it is important to note the cost of TFP in different regions. Other important facts to take into account in order to follow TFP include individual’s cooking skills and time availability. As a nutrition professional, I would use TFP for low income families as a general guide to eat healthier. Many low income individuals do not have enough knowledge about how to eat healthy with their low budget. It is important to make them believe that this is doable and not out of reach. I would provide some resources to increase their knowledge about how to make from scratch and TFP recipes. Some clients may have the skills of cooking from the available resources but do not know how to shop from their limited budget. So, by providing different resources to low income clients to make them believe that they can make it happen; TFP can be utilized as a helpful tool to form a low-cost nutritious diet.

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  12. I think in principal the TFP is a beneficial tool for low income individuals/families; but in reality, it is very unrealistic. Access and seasonal pricing of foods contributes to the already difficult-to-follow program. Also, like Taraneh, I taught a Food Systems lab where students were required to shop for and cook a meal that met all of the DGAs and the budget of the TFP. They were not only frustrated with the task, but they also had to resort to foods of lesser nutritional value and quality to meet macro-requirements for their meals. It was a powerful demonstration of the tough situation these individuals can be put in. Again, I do like the took in principal. I think it could be modified to be more beneficial and helpful though.

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  13. I think that the Thrifty Food Plan is a great concept, like any program it is so structured that it cannot be tailored to fit every individual. I think that it is extremely important for people to learn to budget, it is an essential tool for financial security. This skill can be utilized in so many other parts of their lives. I do think that the TFP is a bit unrealistic however it is great for its intended purpose, to help. It does require changes on the part of the individual. They must learn skills such as cooking and thinking outside the industrialized food system in order to make it work. It is a good tool for an RD to try in order to understand what some of their potential clients struggles and challenges are. As long as there is support, tools apps, websites, with low budget meals and tips to help them succeed this program teaches really good skills that the individual can use.

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  14. Thank you for this creative type of Facilitated Discussion 🙂
    Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is an assistance program for low income families and based on this fact, its importance cannot be denied. It is definite that since the cost of produce (fresh), processed foods etc differ from region to region and not to forget store to store, it is possibly difficult for a low income household of more people (4) versus less (2) to survive just using TFP. Like many other programs, this one has limitations as well. To mention a few, it suggests to cook from scratch which is an healthy and low cost option, but for a single headed household where mother or father are doing three jobs just to pay bills, it could be quite difficult for them to cook from scratch. As a nutritional professional, I can guide my clients to combine different benefits and also help them to apply for them. In addition, I would also be able to advise them how to do grocery shopping for a month’s supply from bigger stores compared to smaller grocery stores by giving them a menu plan including easy to cook recipes with simple and low cost ingredients.

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  15. The TFP is great in theory and under some circumstances may be able to work but realistically it is hard to imagine that most people would be able to meet their needs. The amount of meal planning and preparing required to actually utilize the program successfully for many is not very feasible. The videos showed the wife cooking every single meal so not only do you have to prepare a menu in advance and shop accordingly but also have the skill to prepare the meals. Therefore, It is a potentially doable plan with proper preparation and education. As a nutrition professional, when I work with clients on a tight budget, I will use the TFP as a guide to create meal plans for my client so I can cut some of the hard work out. It is really important to understand local food costs to make a plan like this work so I would survey the local store my client typically shops at (or shop with them), create a meal plan accordingly, and ensure my client is able to cook the meals on their menu. The actual cost of food is major barrier to the program since food costs are not equal across the country and even from store to store in the same neighborhood. It is important to know the clients local surroundings and be able to provide information on where to obtain the best prices.

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