According to a USDA study, the total costs for satisfying the USDA food pattern quantity and variety recommendations for fruits and vegetables in the Dietary Guidelines vary from day to day, but average just under $2.00 per day or, approximately, 40 to 50 cents per cup equivalent, using 2008 prices for commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.
Many of the most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, navel oranges, fresh whole carrots, onions, and potatoes cost less than 40 cents per cup equivalent. A recent Produce Marketing Association report “The Cost of the Recommended Daily Servings of Fresh Produce” shows people can meet vegetable and fruit recommendations for about 50 cents per cup. The average price per cup equivalent across all fresh produce is 42 cents for vegetables and 56 cents for fruits (based on 2009-10 data). Nationally, the average retail price for fresh vegetables and fruits recommended for a 2000 calorie diet (4.5 cup equivalents) is $2.18.
In the total U.S., the least expensive fresh vegetables were potatoes, lettuce, eggplant, greens, summer squash, carrots, and tomatillos. The least expensive fresh fruits were watermelon, bananas, apples, pears, pineapple, and peaches. According to a USDA study, opting for frozen or canned vegetables and fruits may also lower costs.
These studies show it is possible to eat a healthy low cost diet or one that costs less than what people are presently spending. In fact, some of the studies showing that a healthy diet is expensive also admit in their discussion section that a healthy diet can be inexpensive, depending on the food choices a person makes. This is the key choosing healthy, low cost foods.