piggy bank with vegetables

How to Budget for Feeding Your Family

Budgeting for meals is an extremely important part of managing a household. But how do you know what a good amount is for your family? There are a few shortcuts to help you set a food budget that meets the MyPlate recommendations, evaluate the cost of recipes, and save money at the grocery store.

Thrifty Food Plan Costs

The USDA monitors the average cost of food and calculates the cost of groceries to meet the Dietary Guidelines for men and women in different age groups. The Thrifty Food Plan serves as a national standard for a nutritious diet at a minimal cost. This amount assumes that all meals are prepared at home and is based on information about typical food choices around the country.

A typical family of four (mother, father, and two young children) would spend about $130 each week on groceries to meet the MyPlate recommendations. Families with elementary aged children would spend a little more, almost $150 per week. You can see the chart here to calculate the cost for your family.

If you use more pre-prepared foods or eat away from home, then your budget will be a little higher than these estimates. If you cook mostly from scratch, grow your own food, or eat more plant-based proteins, then your budget will be a little lower. How does the Thrifty Food Plan budgets compare to what you usually spend?

woman reading grocery receipt

Cost of Recipes

Once you’ve set a rough budget, how do you know whether the recipes you choose for your meal plan will fit your budget? If you’re willing to do the math, you can calculate the cost of recipes by pricing out ingredients. Many grocery stores offer online ordering now and you can look up the price of ingredients on their site (without having to order). If you want to do even more math, you can calculate the cost of the specific amount of ingredients for a recipe and find the cost per serving. But that’s a lot of math!

Thankfully, the Family Nutrition Program has worked analyze the cost our recipes for you, thanks to the efforts of dietetic students at Virginia Tech. Our recipe standards set a target of $10 per meal for a family of four, based on the Thrifty Food Plan. Main dishes will cost more than side dishes or breakfast recipes since they make up a larger portion of the $10 meal. So you can feel confident that our recipes will fit your budget.

In general, choose recipes that:

  • have 10 ingredients or less
  • use low-cost ingredients
  • feature in-season produce (or substitute frozen or canned when out of season)
  • feature plant-based protein like beans, nuts, or seeds
  • use seasoning blends instead of multiple herbs and spices
  • include ingredients you already have on hand
  • provide reasonable portion sizes

Save Money at the Store

We talk about this often. Check out:

Shopping Smart on a Budget

Shopping in Bulk

Shopping on a Budget

20 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

Do you currently have a budget strategy for grocery shopping? What makes it hard to eat smart on a budget? What helps you save money on food? We’d love to hear your experiences thrifty food shopping.

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