The cost of food is steadily rising at a higher rate than inflation, according to a United Nations report. Meat and dairy products -- staples in most people's diets -- are particularly prone to rising prices. The average food budget for one person is dependent on a variety of factors, including individual dietary choices, access to food, whether you eat at home or go to restaurants and income. People with higher incomes generally spend more money on food.
Most people spend more money on food when they make more money. Gourmet cheeses, higher quality meats and organic produce all tend to cost more. The United States Department of Agriculture publishes a monthly recommended weekly budget for food eaten at home. In December 2012, this budget recommended between $36 and $42 per week -- depending on age and sex -- as part of a thrifty budget, but on a more expensive budget, recommendations increase to between $68 and $83.30 for one person. The USDA reports that, overall, Americans spend 5.7 percent of their income eating at home, and recommends that individuals living alone add 20 percent to the recommended figure for their age, sex and budget.
Age and Sex
Older people tend to need less food than younger people, especially when those young people are going through puberty and are in their prime, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because men are larger than women, they also need slightly more calories. Men, particularly those between the ages of 19 and 50, can expect to spend more on food per week than women. For example, the USDA recommends that men between 19 and 50 using a moderate budget spend $67.50 per week on food, while women in the same budget and age range should spend about $57.90 per week.
Cooking vs. Restaurants
Eating out is generally more expensive than cooking at home, and if you plan to eat out a few times each week, this can greatly increase your budget. Ally Bank reports that the average monthly restaurant budget ranges from $72 to $525 per month, depending on location; restaurants in some areas are more expensive than others, and local cultures affect how frequently people eat out. MSN Money reports that, on average, people spend about 4.5 percent of their income on eating out.
Your individual nutritional choices affect how much you spend on food. Fast food dining, for example, may be cheaper than cooking at home. Higher quality food, organic food and specialty foods tend to be more expensive. If you are a vegetarian, are on a gluten-free diet or must buy special foods due to diabetes or food allergies, your food budget is likely be higher than average, particularly if you work to balance your diet.
- The Guardian: U.N. Warns of Rising Food Costs After Year's Extreme Weather
- The New York Times; Global Food Prices on the Rise, U.N. Says
- United States Department of Agriculture: Official USDA Food Plan -- Cost of Food at Home for Four Levels, U.S. Average, January 2012
- Mother Jones: Calculator -- Is Your Food Spending Normal?
- Granny's Vital Vittles: Real Food Economics 101 -- Real Food vs. Average Food Budgets
- Ally Bank: Ally Bank Looks at What Americans Spend Dining Out
- Grist: What U.S. Citydwellers Really Spend on Food and Drink
- MSN Money: Is Eating Out Cheaper Than Cooking?
- Food and Nutrition Service. "SNAP Data Tables, Latest Available Month July 2019 State Level Participation & Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, August 2019," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- USDA." What Can SNAP Buy?" Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.