Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski recently spent a much-publicized week eating on a food-stamp budget. His motive, he said, was to gain a new appreciation for the working poor. Rebecca Blood notes that “the Governor’s stunt is a little misleading”:

No one expects food stamp recipients to eat on only $21 a week (though I’m sure some people try). The USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (from which food stamp allotments are derived) is spartan enough, but the most recent figures provide an adult male between the ages of 20 and 50 years of age with $35.40 a week for food—part of which will be provided by food stamps, and part by the individual, depending on their income. Regardless, the Governor’s point is well taken. It’s not a lot of money to spend on a week’s worth of food.

Kulongoski’s effort spurred Blood to action. During the month of May, she is attempting to feed her husband and herself on a “Thrifty Food Plan” budget using organic food. She doesn’t know if this will be easy or difficult, but she’s chronicling the process. Her budget is $74.00 per week. During the first week, she spent $65.46.

Blood’s project is fascinating, but I’m more intrigued by the US Department of Agriculture pages she linked to. The Cost of Food at Home page features monthly PDF documents from January 1994 to present. These PDFs provide information about suggested food costs based on a number of factors, including gender and age. They currently list four food plans: a thrifty food plan ($74.00/week for an average couple), a low-cost plan ($93.40/week), a moderate-cost plan ($115.20/week), and a liberal plan ($144.50/week). As Blood mentioned, the thrifty food plan is the basis for food stamp allotments.

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion publishes a 76-page booklet entitled Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals (PDF). Many of the tips here are familiar to frugal cooks:

  • Use planned leftovers to save both time and money.
  • Do “batch cooking” when your food budget and time allow.
  • Shop with a list.
  • Use coupons when possible.
  • Try store brands.
  • Stock up when certain products are on sale.
  • Compare unit price.

The booklet also includes a list of best buys for cost and nutrition, tips for healthy cooking, and fifty pages of recipes. Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals is also available in HTML format. Or you may order a printed copy from the government for $5.50.

Other information available from the USDA web site includes:

Last June I asked GRS readers, “How much do you spend on food?” I noted that Kris and I were spending $400/month on groceries and about $200/month dining out. Those numbers remain unchanged. We’ve also discussed healthy food on an unhealthy budget.

[Rebecca's Pocket: Eating organic on a food stamp budget]