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Nutrient-Rich Foods Are the Way to Reduce Your Food Budget

The cost of food plays a role in all of our diets, and when we see dollar menus at fast food restaurants, we cannot help but wonder whether eating healthy can be just as affordable. An answer to this important question has emerged from recent research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Researchers at the USDA's Economic Research Service studied food prices throughout the United States, and the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) worked to develop low-cost meal plans that would require about 8-10% of the total income earned by a family of four. Based on June 2008 numbers, the lowest of these meal plans would cost about $588 monthly for a family with two adults and two elementary school-aged children. That amount would represent $7,056 per year or about 10% of the median (middle-most) income of $67,019 per family of four (based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau). The strategy used to keep food costs down at this 10% level was none other than nutrient density. The USDA researchers concluded that "For many American households, achieving an affordable, healthy diet will require ... moving nutrient-dense foods, such as fruit and vegetables, to the center of their plates and budgets."

We like to use the term "nutrient-rich" on our website as a way to describe the exact same principle that is expressed by these researchers with their use of term "nutrient-dense." From our perspective, a food isn't nutrient-rich just because it contains a lot of nutrients. Many foods contain a lot of nutrient but fail to qualify as nutrient-rich. A food is nutrient-rich when it contains a lot of nutrients and also, at the very same time, doesn't cost you much in the way of calories. (For example, pot roast contains a lot of nutrients, including protein, zinc, and iron. But we don't consider it nutrient-rich, because it is just too high in calories and you have to use up too many of your daily calories in exchange for obtaining the protein, zinc, and iron.)

Interestingly, the USDA found that refined grains, added sugars, added fats, and processed foods were not the way to go in developing a low-cost, yet still nourishing, food plan. The only way for the meal plan to remain both nourishing and low-cost was to emphasize nutrient-rich foods.

Included in the USDA report was an estimate of the time it would take to follow a low-cost meal plan. An American Time Use Survey from 2003-2004 was used to determine that the women with full-time jobs in low-income families averaged 40 total minutes of cooking time per day. This amount of time was regarded as potentially not enough to follow a low-cost meal plan, which the researchers estimated as being closer to 2 hours per day (the amount previously estimated by another group of researchers at Tulane University).

Yet, don't let that time estimate stop you from pursuing a nutrient-rich diet as we are confident that you can best this 2-hour allotment of time simply by following the tips we provide on our website and in our cookbook (in fact, most of the recipes in the cookbook take less than 10 minutes to prepare). Alongside of optimal nourishment, convenience was a top priority in our development of the Healthiest Way of Eating, and we believe it can help you enjoy the World's Healthiest Foods with all three benefits in hand: low-cost, convenience, and optimal nourishment.

Reference Golan E, Steward H, Kuchler F et al. Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet? Amber Waves. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 2008, 6(5): 26-34.

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