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Food Safety News

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Healthy Eating for $2.50 a Day

Vegetables and fruits should take up half the plate, according to the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and following that advice will cost only about $2 to $2.50 a day.


A new report, “How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost?” from the U.S. Department of  Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, checked out the average retail price for 153 fresh and processed vegetables and fruits. 

The study found that fruit prices ranged from a low of 17 cents per cup for fresh watermelon to $2.06 per cup for fresh raspberries.

Vegetable prices ranged from dry pinto beans, at 13 cents per cup, to $2.07 per cup for frozen asparagus cuts and tips.

An adult on a 2,000-calorie diet could satisfy the daily requirements for 2-2.5 cups of fruit and 2.5-3.5 cups of vegetables at an average cost of less then $2.50, the study concluded.  

The report updates the USDA’s last produce price estimates, in 2004, which estimated that eating the recommended levels of fruit and vegetables then in place (three servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables) cost roughly $1 a day.

For this new report, the USDA purchased 2008 Nielson Homescan data collected from households to estimate the average prices (and the paper notes the problems in relying on self-reported Nielson Homescan data).

Other findings:

Fresh fruits that cost less than 50 cents per cup include watermelon, bananas, apples, navel oranges, honeydew melon, plums and nectarines.

Applesauce was the least expensive of the canned fruits.

Strawberries, at $2.12 per pound, were the cheapest of the frozen, unsweetened fruits.

At 40 cents per reconstituted cup, frozen concentrated apple juice was the least expensive fruit juice.

Raisins, at $2.42 per pound, were the most economical dried fruit.

Eight fresh vegetables could be purchased for less than 50 cents per cup: whole carrots, iceberg lettuce, onions, cauliflower, celery, baby carrots, romaine and radishes.

Retail prices, the study points out, can be a poor indicator of actual cost on a per cup basis. For example, fresh broccoli florets and fresh ears of sweet corn both sell for around $1.80 a pound, but after removing the husks, silks and cob, the corn would cost $1.17 per cup, almost twice as much as broccoli florets at 63 cents per cup.

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    Yeah. No problem feeding the boys half a plate of veggies for a buck a day, more or less.
    Broccoli and beans, baby!

  • You can also start to grow some of your own or sprout. That will cut into your food bill as well.

  • Annie O

    Does this report factor in organic fruits and vegetables (at least the particular fruits/veggies an informed* person would want to substitute in place of the most highly pesticided/fungicided/chemically fertilized/irradiated/genetically modified veggies and fruits?
    Studies show that our factory-farmed veggies/fruits are lower in nutrients as the soils have been depleted over the decades from factory-style farming. These same nutrient-deficient veggies/fruits can look ‘perfect’ as they are fertilized (with chemical fertilizers (but, as mentioned above, they are lacking the nutrients (especially selenium and zinc – which are minerals that we need for strong immune systems and other important bodily functions).
    (*informed, that is, by diligent research on one’s own, as this information is not typically emphasized in typical news resources such as newspapers, popular magazines, television, etc.)

  • Jesse D

    Good point Anne. I would go one step further and advocate for local fruits and veggies. I don’t really need to buy blackberries flown in from Chile in February but I would love apples from a local orchard.
    That said, we can never promote the convenience and nutritional value of local, fresh fruits and veggies enough. What is the price of a value meal at McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King or Wendy’s?

  • I love when logic flies in the face of how it costs more to eat healthy. The simple fact is you eat less when you feel more nourished, and your medical bills will thank you later.

  • Ben Mark

    What’s left in my stomache after I eat a cup of lettuce or an apple, after the water is extracted? How can I feed a family with 4 on 8 cups of fruit or veggies a day? 1 head of lettuce with a few leaves on it cost at the cheapest supermarket $1.54. Either I shop in the wrong Country or went to the wrong math classes in school. Is here somebody pulling our legs again?
    $2.50 x 4 people = $10.00 if somebody can by it this cheap anyway. Not fresh at a farmers market that’s for sure.

  • Fred Alan

    Ben, you went to the wrong math classes. Go back to school, grab some education, and then re-read the article.

  • I can’t agree more. Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet—they are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Fruits and vegetables should be part of every meal and your first choice for a snack—aim for a minimum of five portions each day. The antioxidants and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases.

  • Ben Mark

    I’m in the lucky position to have enough money to buy the high priced fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t see many mother’s with kids on the checkout counter loaded with the needed fresh fruits and vegetables, maybe some cans. Often the produce is so old and wilted in the shelves, the clerks take it out and dump it. If everybody could afford to buy it, that shouldn’t be happen. The stores should be short of supply. 50% of the apples I bought last week, a pound for $1.47 where rotten inside. They looked good and healthy from the outside.
    Another thing I noticed is, more and more produce is packed in clamshells adding cost to the produce. I understand soft berries have to be packed this way but 2 tomatoes, 2 sweet potatoes, every day more. I asked a while ago a produce manager from a big chain supermarket why this is now getting more every day. He said they need to put on a sticker with a code for the checkout counter to scan the product. I told him they always had the list with the PLU number why the change? He didn’t know. I also asked him about the fact of having all those tons of extra plastic in our land fills, polluting the environment. He didn’t have an answer either. As there are so many educated people on this website, I’m sure someone has an answer.