Eating Near the Poverty Line

Blogger Lisa Johnson set out to feed her family exclusively from Whole Foods Market for a USDA-calculated “thrifty” budget of $491.10 for 30 days. Read about her success.

Lisa Johnson is an avid from-scratch cook and now frugal foodie at opens in a new tab. She writes about her family's food adventures on her blog. She is frequently found on Twitter @LisaJohnson.

Sometimes you get a hold of an idea and you just can’t let go. Even though something seems a little crazy, you try it.

I’ve been writing about obesity, particularly childhood obesity, for a few years now and I kept wondering how hard it is for people at or near the poverty level to feed their families well. I knew a lot about nutrition and healthy eating, but what is it like to feed a family, healthfully, at or near the poverty level?

Believe it or not, I roam around the USDA website for fun. It’s a treasure trove of information, all kinds of stats and figures and guidelines. A few months ago I ran across grocery budgets set by gender and age and at four different price points: Thrifty, Low, Medium and Liberal. The USDA tracks over 8,000 families on a monthly basis.

They record all of their food purchases and create an aggregate picture. You can see exactly where you fit in on their Cost of Food at Home opens in a new tab chart.

You might think these stats are a waste of taxpayer money but they have real implications.

If you’re going through a divorce there’s a good shot that your children’s food allowance for child support will be set from the “low” level. At the other end of the spectrum, our troops are fed based on the “liberal” budget. So it does have a real impact in our lives and our pocketbooks.

Actually the USDA influences us in a lot of ways that you might not be aware of. They set the guidelines for school lunches (recently revised and somewhat better than before) and they came out with the Food Plate opens in a new tab late last year, the big graphic plate that has now replaced the Food Pyramid.

But back to those budgets, there are a few facts buried in the tables. The low and medium budget categories assume 10% waste and the liberal budget assumes 30% waste.

Could you imagine throwing out 30% of what you bring home?

After quite a bit of pondering and several discussions with my family, we decided to set up a 30-day challenge and blog about it.

We would use our budget amount of $491.10 for 270 meals plus snacks (every meal for three people using the “thrifty” budget category). That works out to $16.37 per day and yes we even packed a school lunch for our 4th grade son.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how we did! What do you think?

Could you and your family eat on a poverty level budget?

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