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How The Grocery Budget Calculator Works

Calculator Details

The USDA creates food plans multiple times per year using current food cost data to calculate the cost of food at home at four different levels. The grocery budget calculator is based on the low-cost level of the latest available Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home.

Each Cost of Food at Home Plan provides enough food for all meals to be eaten at home or carried out of the home. All plans provide the calories and nutrients recommended by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Thrifty plan, which is the least costly of the four, is the basis for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp program. The Low-Cost and Moderate plans provide appropriate diets for most people. The Liberal plan permits a greater variety, more meat, and a different mix of fruits and vegetables than other plans.

When reading the table, keep in mind that the information is based on nationwide averages. It does not include non-food items purchased at grocery stores or meals purchased at restaurants. Footnotes are provided to assist in adjusting food costs based on different family sizes.

To calculate overall household grocery costs we:

  1. Adjusted food costs for each person in household.
  2. The Cost of Food at Home table provides an amount for each family member by their age and gender if they ate all their meals at home.
    b. from this amount 1/21 is subtracted for each meal they ate away from home.
    c. an adjustment is made for household size*
  3. Summed the adjusted food costs for each family member to get the cost of food at home for the household. Note: cost of food at restaurants and costs for school meals are not included in the grocery budget calculator.


  • 1-person – add 20 percent
  • 2-person – add 10 percent
  • 3-person – add 5 percent
  • 4-person – no adjustment
  • 5- or 6-person – subtract 5 percent
  • 7- (or more) person – subtract 10 percent

Nutrition Guidelines

Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. The recipe has 15 grams, or less, of total fat per serving and 5 grams, or less, of saturated fat per serving.
    Most recipes should have 35 percent or fewer calories from fat. However, 50 percent or fewer calories from fat is acceptable in the following:
    – Recipes in which the primary ingredient is meat, such as meatloaf.
    – Recipes should use lean meat. Instructions for preparing meat in recipes should include tips such as trimming off visible fat, removing skin from poultry, and draining or skimming fat from cooked meats.
    – Recipes in which the primary ingredient is nuts.
    – Recipes in which the primary ingredients are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but low in fat and calories (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) when partnered with oils for baking, roasting, sautéing, or as salad dressings.
  2. A recipe does not have more than 2 teaspoons of added sugar per serving.
  3. Dairy products in the recipe are low fat and milk is nonfat or 1%.
  4. Whole Grains should be used whenever possible.
  5. Sodium in the recipes should be low to moderate (target of 1500-2300 mg daily).
    – For casserole style dishes the sodium content should be 700 mg or below
    – For entrees the sodium content should be 400 mg or below
    – For side dishes and snacks the sodium content should be 200 mg or below

A portion of this website was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. This institution is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more visit SNAP-Ed Non-discrimination Statement