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Making “Thrifty” Go Further

      The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) determines the allotment for Supplemental NutritionAssistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The TFP is the least expensive of the 4 US government food plans. The TFP was last revised in 2006 to “provide a representative healthful and minimal cost meal plan that shows how a nutritiousdiet may be achieved with limited resources” (p. ES-1).
      • Carlson A
      • Lino M
      • Juan W-Y
      • Hanson K
      • Basiotis PP
      Thrifty Food Plan, 2006. CNPP-19.
      The TFP assumes all purchased foods are consumed at home and is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
      US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Agriculture
      2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

      Revising the TFP

      The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the Farm Bill, called for revising the TFP. More specifically, “by 2022 and at 5-year intervals thereafter, the Secretary shall re-evaluate and publish the market baskets of the thrifty food plan based on current food prices, food composition data, consumption patterns, and dietary guidance” (section 4002).

      Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. Public Law No: 115-334 (2018). https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2. Accessed February 25, 2021.

      According to a USDA press release from January 22, 2021, the TFP has not kept pace with economic realities that food insecure households face when purchasing and preparing food. The TFP benefits fall short of what a healthy adequate diet costs, especially in high cost of living areas.
      US Department of Agriculture
      Biden administration expands P-EBT to benefit millions of low-income and food insecure children during pandemic [press release].
      The goal is for the revision of the TFP to have federal nutrition programs better support a basic healthful diet.

      TFP and Nutrition Education

      A 1979 analysis of the TFP assessed the TFP based on Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA). This study found that all RDAs could not be met through TFP. Regarding nutrition education, this study concluded that nutrition education can only be effective if the TFP provides adequate resources for good nutrition.
      • Lane S
      • Vermeersch J.
      Evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan: menus based on the Thrifty Food Plan cannot assure dietary adequacy.
      In 2013, an Institute of Medicine report punctuated that adequate resources are a precursor to effective nutrition education. This report's framework for determining SNAP adequacy depicts available financial resources, as well as time to obtain and prepare food, are primary for food security. Individual and household factors, which include nutrition education, are only effective if there are adequate resources.
      Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC)
      Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Examining the Evidence to Define Benefit Adequacy.
      Jetter et al
      • Jetter KM
      • Adkins J
      • Cortez S
      • Hopper GK
      • Shively V
      • Styne DM
      Yes we can: eating healthy on a limited budget.
      conducted community-based participatory research and found that to achieve nutritional adequacy over a 2-week menu (individual days were not nutritionally adequate), the low-cost food plan (one step up from the TFP) was needed, and foods had to be purchased at a store that has low-price bulk items.
      Thus, the TFP has been inadequate to support a healthy diet for decades.

      Getting Involved in Revising TFP

      Let's advocate for the TFP to support a healthy diet. As nutrition educators we know shopping on a budget is important. Yet, we know when budget is too limited, it is impossible to eat healthfully. This is especially in our current reality where 60% of what is available are ultra-processed foods. These foods are relatively inexpensive, high in calories, but nutritionally void. Systemic racism has created communities of color and low-income communities with even more challenged access to healthy foods and more ultra-processed foods. Just think how much easier our jobs could be if everyone has adequate financial resources and access to healthful foods and could consider issues such as food justice and sustainability. Revising the TFP opens up this opportunity.

      REFERENCES

        • Carlson A
        • Lino M
        • Juan W-Y
        • Hanson K
        • Basiotis PP
        Thrifty Food Plan, 2006. CNPP-19.
        US Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, 2007
        • US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Agriculture
        2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
        US Department of Agriculture, 2005
      1. Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. Public Law No: 115-334 (2018). https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2. Accessed February 25, 2021.

        • US Department of Agriculture
        Biden administration expands P-EBT to benefit millions of low-income and food insecure children during pandemic [press release].
        (USDA; January 22)2021
        • Lane S
        • Vermeersch J.
        Evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan: menus based on the Thrifty Food Plan cannot assure dietary adequacy.
        J Nutr Educ. 1979; 11: 96-98
        • Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC)
        Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Examining the Evidence to Define Benefit Adequacy.
        The National Academies Press, 2013
        • Jetter KM
        • Adkins J
        • Cortez S
        • Hopper GK
        • Shively V
        • Styne DM
        Yes we can: eating healthy on a limited budget.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2019; 51: 268-276