American Society For Nutrition

5-a-day for $2-a-day

5-a-day for $2-a-day

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 06/23/2011 at 04:19:42 PM by Student Blogger
By: Krystle Z.


Yes that is me and my prized coupon binder, and no, I am not auditioning for the show “Extreme Couponing.” However, I am an avid “couponer”, and my limited income has motivated me to learn how to eat healthy on a budget and to get the most bang for my buck.  The idea that it's more expensive to eat healthy may have some truths, and research has suggested that price discounts can drive the purchases of healthier foods (1, 2).  The reality of subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables is not in the near future, but eating healthy doesn't have to break the bank. There are easy ways that people can shop smarter to eat better, such as choosing less expensive fruits and vegetables. The USDA's Economic Research Service just released a report in February estimating that adults can meet the 5-a-day recommendation of fruits and vegetables for an average of $2 - $2.50/day (3). That's only 50 cents a serving!  The report estimated average prices of over 150 fresh and processed fruits and vegetables (including juices) based on the 2008 Nielsen's Homescan panel, and if you don't have the time to read the 37 page report “How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost?”, here's the list of the top 10 least expensive fresh fruits and veggies!

Fresh Fruit

Average price per edible cup equivalent

Fresh Vegetable

Average price per edible cup equivalent



Potatoes, cooked




Carrots, raw




Iceberg Lettuce


Navel Oranges


Cabbage, cooked




Onions, raw




Cauliflower, raw




Carrots, cooked




Celery stalks, raw




Cauliflower, cooked




Baby carrots, raw


Source: USDA, Economic Research Service Analysis of 2008 Nielsen's Homescan Data

There is the common misconception that canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper, and while this may be true when they are out of season, the USDA report did not find that processed or frozen versions were consistently cheaper.  Applesauce was the least expensive canned fruit ($0.46/serving), but personally I would choose the crisp, fresh, and cheaper whole apple.  Choose the Cheapest Produce By Month;  buying in season will ensure fresher, tastier, and less expensive produce.

Of course one can't forget: Beans, Beans, the magical legume; the more you eat, the more fiber and protein you consume. All 12 canned and dried beans and lentils priced in the USDA report were less than $0.50/cup equivalent. What a nutritional bargain!

While the estimated cost of meeting the fruit and vegetable recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans seems affordable, access to these foods is an important issue that needs to be addressed.  Unfortunately, farmer's markets and supermarkets are not easily accessible in many communities, and the lack of availability of fresh fruits and vegetables may be influencing food choices more than just price (4).  That issue however, will have to be addressed in another blog….

1. Mhurchu C, Blakely T, Jiang Y, Eyles H, Rodgers A. Effects of price discounts and tailored nutrition education on supermarket purchases: A randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(3):736.
2. French S. Pricing effects on food choices. J Nutr. 2003;133(3):841.
3. Stewart, Hayden, Jeffrey Hyman, Jean C. Buzby, Elizabeth Frazão, and Andrea Carlson. How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost? EIB-71, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. February 2011
4. Larson N, Story M, Nelson M. Neighborhood environments: Disparities in access to healthy foods in the U.S. Am J Prev Med. 2009;36(1):74.

Posted Jun 24, 2011 12:42 AM by jennie flores

love it! That's fantastic information! On a side note I didn't know mangoes was spelled that way! (seriously) :)

Posted Jun 24, 2011 10:45 AM by Sara

Frozen veggies might not be cheaper, but for those who buy 5 apples or 2 lbs green beans and only eat half of them, frozen represents a more flexible option.

Great post Krystle! I think showing a list of the cheapest produce is a great idea :)