Developing a Food Spending Plan

This is the second blog in a series about budgeting. If you haven’t read the first post yet, please take some time to read Developing a Household Budget. This current blog focuses on food budgeting and will help you develop a food spending plan for your household.

Have you ever wondered how much money you should be spending on food each month? Food budgets will vary from household to household. Some people prepare most of their meals from scratch, while others use more prepared foods, which tend to cost more money. If you eat more meals out at restaurants, you’re likely going to spend more money on food than if you prepare most meals at home. And of course, larger households will need to spend more on food than smaller households.

There’s so many factors to consider when developing a food budget, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a tool to make it easier for you. The USDA Food Plans provide an average cost of food for individuals by age and gender. The USDA Food Plan estimates are based on preparing all of your meals at home. There is a Thrifty Food Plan, for households on a limited budget. And there are low, moderate, and liberal-cost plans for those with more resources to spend on food.

The chart below is based on the USDA Food Plan’s thrifty and low-cost food estimates. You can use this chart to develop a food spending plan for your household. Let’s look at an example for a family of two with a with a 35 year-old woman and 5 year old child.


Age-gender group Weekly At-Home Food Costs
Thrifty plan Low-cost plan

1 year

2-3 years

4-5 years

6-8 years

9-11 years














12-18 years

19-50 years

51+ years










12-18 years

19-50 years

51+ years










To determine weekly food costs for the household, look at the amount corresponding to their age and gender.


Thrifty Food Plan

5-year-old – $25

35-year-old female – $38

Total – $63 per week


Low Cost Plan

5-year-old – $31

35-year-old female – $48

Total – $79 per week

In our example, this two-person family can estimate needing $63 – $79 each week for food, which totals approximately $252 to $316 per month. After developing the estimate for your household, you can compare it to your actual food costs. Recall that using processed or partially processed foods will increase your food expense.  For example, using vegetables in a microwavable steam pouch will cost more than using frozen vegetables that you season and cook either in the microwave or a pan. If you are spending more than the amounts listed, you may want to set a goal to reduce your food budget. Check out these tips to save money at the grocery store to get started.

You may also want to consider food resources that can help you reduce the out of pocket costs you spend on food each month, which will be the focus of the next blog in this series. Check back soon to learn about programs and resources to help you manage your food budget.