Nutrition Column – Enjoy Seven Servings of Fruits and Vegetables for Less Than a Dollar a Day

Lower your risk for heart disease, certain types of cancer and other chronic health conditions for less than a dollar a day!

Sound too good to be true? According to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans can consume the recommended seven servings of fruits and vegetables for as little as 64 cents a day.  

An ever-increasing body of research suggests that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides a multitude of health benefits, including potentially reducing the risk for heart disease and cancer. Currently, Americans consume only half as much fruit as recommended. While we do come close to the recommended number of servings for vegetables, french fries, potato chips and iceberg lettuce account for a third of all the vegetables we eat.

One reason consumers commonly cite for not eating more fruits and vegetables is that they are expensive, especially when purchased fresh. In an effort to determine the actual cost of eating various types of produce, the USDA analyzed the price per serving for multiple fruits and vegetables in their fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice forms. The analysis used ACNielsen Homescan data on 1999 household food purchases from all types of retail outlets to estimate an annual retail price per pound for 69 forms of fruits and 85 forms of vegetables.

Results showed that 86 percent of all vegetables and 78 percent of all fruits studied cost less than 50 cents per serving, and half of all fruits and vegetables studied cost 25 cents or less per serving. Said another way, the results showed there are 127 different ways to eat a serving of fruit or vegetables for less than the cost of a 3-ounce candy bar.

The report concluded that consumers trying to meet the Food Guide Pyramid recommendations of three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables per day can do so for a minimum cost of 64 cents a day. Although this report used data from 1999, when adjusted based on the consumer price index for fruits and vegetables, the cost today would be about 10 percent higher, or about 70 cents a day – still a bargain. Notably, the USDA analysis also found 63 percent of fruits and 57 percent of vegetables were cheapest in their fresh form after adjustments for waste and serving size were made.

When purchasing fruits and vegetables, consumers can get the most value for their dollar by considering the following:

– Determine the number of servings provided. Pay attention not just to the price per pound, but also to the number of servings obtainable from a pound.

– Keep in mind that fresh produce has a relatively short shelf life; buy only the amount that will be used before it spoils. Cost per serving can rise dramatically if a portion must be thrown away.

– Always watch for sales and buy fresh produce when it is in season.

– Use manufacturers coupons when purchasing produce in its canned, frozen, dried or juice form to further reduce the price per serving.

Electronic copies of the USDA report entitled "How Much Do Americans Pay for

Fruits and Vegetables?" are available online at the USDA Web site at

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension