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Columns

December 12, 2009

Experiment produces much food for thought

It's no secret that junk food is cheaper than health food, but I didn't realize how much cheaper until I read about a study on the American food dollar.

According to the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, $1 will buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda "" but only 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit.

It made me wonder: Could someone on a limited budget actually afford the recommended daily servings of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy products and heart-healthy fats? I decided to find out.

My goal was to feed my family (my husband and two daughters, ages 6 and 12) seven healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners for under $125 (just under $4.50 per person per day) "" and to do it without clipping coupons.

I arrived at $125 after researching the average food stamp benefits for families in our area and using the "figure your food dollar" calculator at the Iowa State University Extension's Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website (http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/fooddollar/). The calculator estimated I'd need to spend $174 per week to provide my family a nutritious diet that meets current Dietary Guidelines for America. That seemed in line with what we typically spend, and I figured I could do a lot better if I really tried. I was willing to put in a little extra time in the kitchen, but I did not want to sacrifice quality. I hoped we would not have to resort to white bread, macaroni and canned peas, but I was dubious as I began crunching the numbers.

Before making my shopping list, I

visited www.myplate.gov to get the

USDA's recommended food servings for each member of my family. I also consulted Dianne Dirig, program leader for Family and Consumer Science at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Otsego County.

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