Thrifty Food Plan Gets an Update

 
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Good news for SNAP users and for anyone counseling clients using SNAP. The US Government increased funds for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, AKA food stamps) users recently based on an update from the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). The increase would mean a bump of $36.24 per person per month starting on Oct. 1. 1 We've put together a post with the highlights here, and more updates are incoming. In the meantime, here's what you need to know...

Health practitioners and educators may use TFP to provide advice to food insecure clients on how to better use SNAP benefits to meet their nutritional needs within their culture, food preferences and household needs.

The USDA Thrifty Food Plan uses changes to nutritional guidance, food prices and American’s eating habits to calculate SNAP benefits. Before this year, the TFP wasn’t updated regularly and did not reflect the cost of food based on location.

The TFP is a measure of current food prices, food intake patterns, food composition data and dietary guidance. It’s meant to provide a sample grocery basket that shows what individuals should eat based on products people choose most often. The TFP figures out the minimal amount of money needed to nutritiously feed a family of four on a given day, week and month. The calculation sets the benefit amount for those using SNAP. 2

In 2019, the USDA Economia Research Service discovered roughly 10.5% of US households suffered food insecurity (limited or uncertain availability of food that’s nutritionally adequate and safe or uncertain or limited funds to purchase food in socially accepted ways) at least part of the time throughout the year. Very low food insecurity was over 4% of households, accounting for 5.3 million households, 1 in 9 individuals, and 1 in 7 children. There were the lowest levels in 20 years prior to the pandemic. 3

According to Feeding America, 1 in 7 or 45 million people, which includes 15 million children (1 in 5) may have dealt with food insecurity in 2020. They estimate that 1 in 8 (42 million), including 13 million children (1 in 6) will experience food insecurity this year. Funds for individuals and families to use to buy healthy food is crucial, especially when the calculation has been cost-neutral with previous updates and food prices being higher due to the pandemic. The cost for nutritious, affordable food is 21% more than the prior TFP. 4

As mentioned above, SNAP participants will obtain an extra $1.19 per day ($36.24 per month) more as of October 1. A mandate to assist SNAP participants in utilizing the extra benefits will be needed to create healthy eating habits for themselves and their families. USDA researchers found a correlation between higher income and higher cost market baskets, higher cost market baskets and superior diet quality, based on Healthy Eating Index scores, plus more time spent on lower income individuals and food-at-home related tasks. Quality of diet isn’t and should not be dependent on income. 2

Encouraging and supporting healthy eating habits for all is not just the responsibility of government and nonprofit agencies. As health experts, we can all play a role. Below are three areas to get started:

  1. Meet clients where they are. Embrace cultural eating patterns and help individuals make health food choices based on what they’re already eating. Aim for affordable, accessible food that they’ll enjoy eating. New 30-day meal plans for cultural foodways will be arriving soon from the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP).
  2. Provide responsible, realistic messaging. While fresh fruits and vegetables are desirable, retailers, government and non-government entities should create messaging about convenience, affordability and access to other healthy foods. Messages that encourage equally nutritious foods such as frozen fruits and vegetables need to become more mainstream. A new digital tool called “Shop Simple with MyPlate” is coming soon which will help consumers identify foods they enjoy that are within reach.
  3. Forward-Seeking Research. Evaluation of household food loss and waste as well as calculating time saved and accessibility should be assessed. Reviewing diversity and eating patterns while improving nutritional intake should also be assessed. 2

More work clearly needs to be done, but the update in the Thrifty Food Plan is certainly a step in the right direction. For a few recipes that lend themselves well to shopping with this approach, don't miss 3 Recipe Ideas for the Thrifty Food Plan.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References:

  1. Food Stamp Program SNAP Gets Largest Single Increase To Date : NPR
  2. Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2020. Household Food Security in the United States in 2019, ERR-275, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thrifty Food Plan, 2021. August 2021. FNS-916. Available at https://FNS.usda.gov/TFP
  4. Feeding America. 2021. The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020 & 2021. https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/2021-03/National%20Projections%20Brief_3.9.2021_0.pdf.
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