Bulletin #4313 Thrifty Food Plan Survivor Challenge

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Food for ME: Citizen Action for Community Food Recovery

By Kathy Savoie, MS, RD, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Associate Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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The Thrifty Food Plan Survivor Challenge (TFPSC) is a simulation exercise that immerses learners in a “real-life” situation to plan a week’s worth of meals in accordance with dietary standards and economical confines for the Thrifty Food Plan.


grocery cart

According to the USDA Economic Research Service’s “Household Food Security in the United States in 2015,” Maine is the 9th most food insecure state in the country, the most food insecure state in New England, and has the third highest rate of very low food security in the United States. Given these realities, a need exists to prepare people to work with food insecure audiences. One strategy includes exposing people to simulations. Simulations are a type of interactive educational exercise that promotes experiential learning as learners live through a “real-life” situation. Simulations are an effective learning method that impacts retention of knowledge and attitude change.

Thrifty Food Plan Survivor Challenge Overview

Research has shown that many people don’t understand the issues faced by those who are food insecure because they had never experienced poverty. Completing the Thrifty Food Plan Survivor Challenge (TFPSC) can sensitize people for work with food insecure populations by exposing them to the reality of living on a limited food budget.

The TFPSC is a simulation exercise that immerses learners in a “real-life” situation to plan, shop and prepare a week’s worth of meals and snacks according to the Thrifty Food Plan Market Basket Standards while remaining below the Cost of Food at Home economical confines for the Thrifty Food Plan. The TFPSC couples economic confines with the added challenge of meeting dietary standards. For example, a learner completing the assignment in January 2018 would need to create a weekly plan including meals and snacks for less than $37.80 that also meets the Low-Cost Food Plan market basket quantities of food purchased for a week found in USDA’s Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost and Liberal Cost Food Plans, 2007. The Low-Cost Food Plan outlines the volume of food needed within twenty-nine food sub-groups to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by gender and age.

While completing the challenge, learners are encouraged to adopt ‘real-life’ situations of food insecure populations. The reality of meeting food needs with limited transportation to sources of food, limited access to food supplies and limited resources to store and prepare food present different obstacles for learners to overcome while also learning more about food access instead of traditional means for purchasing foods (food pantries, soup kitchens, etc.).

Thrifty Food Plan Survivor Challenge

1. Read the following report: Thrifty Food Plan, 2021.

2. Complete the assignment outlined below to determine if you can “survive” the challenge of planning a week’s worth of meals at or below the Thrifty Food Plan cost. You can take one of two approaches to complete this assignment: 1. Price foods then prepare a menu or 2. Plan a menu then price foods.

3. Go to the store and price out the quantities of food for your sex/age.

4. Fill out Table 1 using the Thrifty Food Plan standards for your age and sex (page ES-7, ES-8 and pages 23-24 of The Thrifty Food Plan, 2006). Example:

GroupFoodStandardAmt. boughtUnit pricePrice
Other veg.Corn
Breakfast cereals, cooked and ready to eatGrape Nuts.18lb.182.40.43

5.  Add the prices for the cost per week.

6. Compare your cost to the Cost of Food at Home sheet. For an individual in a 1 person family, add 20% to the cost for an individual on the chart. (i.e., multiply by 1.2).

7. Design a breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack with the food you have “bought.” Do not report the entire recipe, but do list all the ingredients. Report only quantities to feed 1 person.

Example: Eggplant Parmesan — ¼ eggplant, 2 T breadcrumbs, ¼ cup ricotta cheese, ¼ cup tomato sauce, 3 T oil, 1 egg, 1/8 cup milk.
Note: All the ingredients need to be “bought” the same week. AND this day’s meals and snack need to be well-balanced according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Exception: You can assume that the following staples are in you home pantry: herbs and spices, salt, pepper, baking powder and baking soda.

8. Record all cost for your actual food intake for 1 full week. Do not record all supermarket purchases such as shampoo, etc., but only food costs. Include all food and drink eaten away from home. If you share food with others in your household, record all household costs, then divide by the number of people in your household, and add on your personal away-from home costs. Do not include your list of food costs, but use it to answer a question listed in #9.

9. Answer the following questions:

  • Was your actual cost lower than or equal to the Thrifty Food Plan Cost? If not, what could you have done to lower your cost? In which Food Plan would you categorize your usual diet?
  • What was the hardest part of completing this challenge? Why?
  • What did you learn by completing this challenge?
  • How easy/difficult would it be to design a week’s meals according to the Thrifty Food Plan? Why?
  • How did the experience of completing this assignment challenge and/or reinforce readings, theories, or concepts from your own life experiences?
  • Comment on how this experience revealed personal strengths and weaknesses, attitudes or biases, and assumptions or expectations of others.
  • What assumptions did you make about the resources you have to facilitate completing this project (transportation, food access, household environment resources)? How would this experience have been different if you didn’t have these resources?
  • Identify up to three community resources that assist with free food access to augment the cost of purchasing food. What impact could these resources have on your Thrifty Food Plan?
  • Comment on how you would feel if you had to always buy foods according to the Thrifty Food Plan

Table 1

(Download a Word or PDF file).

Food CategoryFood
StandardQuantity Bought
x Unit price = price
Whole grain breads, rice, pasta, and pastries (including whole grain flour)   
Whole grain cereals (including hot cereal mixes)   
Popcorn and other whole grain snacks   
Non-whole grain breads, cereals, rice, pasta, pies, pastries, snacks and flours   
All potato products   
Dark-green vegetables   
Orange Vegetables   
Canned and dry beans, lentils, and peas (legumes)   
Other vegetables   
Whole Fruits   
Fruit Juices   
Whole milk, yogurt, and cream   
Lower fat and skim milk, and lowfat yogurt   
All Cheese (including cheese soup and sauce)   
Milk drinks and milk desserts   
Beef, pork, veal, lamb and game   
Chicken, turkey and game birds   
Fish and fish products   
Bacon, sausages, and luncheon meats (including spreads)
Nuts, nut butters and seeds
Eggs and egg mixtures   
Table fats, oils, and salad dressings   
Gravies, sauces, condiments, and spices   
Coffee and Tea   
Soft drinks, sodas, fruit drinks, and ades (including rice beverages)   
Sugar, sweets and candies   
Soups (ready-to-serve and condensed)   
Soups (dry)   
Frozen or refrigerated entrees (including pizza, fish sticks, frozen meals)   


Cost of Food at Home:
(Appropriate age/sex group)
1 person family (does not apply to   X 1.2
more than 1 person families)                                    
TOTAL COST OF FOOD AT HOME    $ _____________

Menu for Thrifty Food Plan Challenge
















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