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).
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.