Thrifty Meal Challenge | Healthy Living

Planning, shopping, and preparing a nutritious meal is an important life skill. This challenge encourages participants to explore the different sections of a grocery store and consider a variety of money-saving strategies to plan a nutritious meal while sticking to a limited budget. The participant will need to combine their knowledge of nutrition, meal planning, and financial responsibility to successfully plan a nutritious meal with limited funds.

This experience will simulate a realistic life situation for many families where time, access to nutritious foods, and spending budget is limited. The Thrifty Meal Challenge also includes specific parameters that must be met including:

  • Proper serving sizes for four people
  • Inclusion of the five food groups
  • Total cost of meal ingredients being $11 or less.

This challenge has been incorporated as a Special Exhibition poster challenge as part of 4-H exhibits at fairs. Additional learning experiences may be offered in a local workshop or virtually to prepare youth to be more equipped for this challenge. Statewide offerings will be posted on this website, along with suggested resources if youth want to dig deeper into this topic and learn more about nutrition and money saving strategies when grocery shopping.

This challenge was formerly known as the $10 Meal Challenge. Due to the increased cost of food and based on USDA data from the Thrifty Food Plan, the budget of the challenge will be updated annually by December of that program year based on national averages for food costs.

Review the guidelines and resources below to best prepare yourself for this poster exhibit opportunity.

Special Exhibition

10490 Thrifty Meal Challenge – Create a balanced, nutritious meal for a family of four (4) that includes a serving from each of the five food groups with a budget of $11.

Rules for the Challenge:​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

  1. Each county may advance one (1) exhibit in this class to the Iowa State Fair.
  2. All entries will receive an evaluation and ribbon.
  3. Exhibit may be from an individual or group effort.
  4. The total expense on receipt(s) must not exceed $11.
  5. The meal must serve four (4) people, with a serving for each person from each of the five (5) food groups: Fruit, Vegetable, Protein, Grain, and Dairy.
    1. Recommended portion sizes per person: ½ cup fruit, ½ cup vegetable, 3 ounces protein, 1-2 ounces grain, 1 cup equivalent dairy.
    2. If there is a dairy allergy, you may substitute it with a calcium-rich item, but you will need to indicate the allergy and identify how the item substituted provides enough calcium.
  6. The exhibit will be a poster (maximum size 20 inches x 30 inches) that includes:
    1. A copy of the Thrifty Meal Challenge Worksheet attached to the back of the poster.
    2. The menu, the outline of food items, and appropriate portion sizes for each food item.
    3. Meal type (breakfast, lunch, or dinner)
    4. Copy of grocery receipts (up to 2)
    5. Photos of the experience: grocery shopping, food preparation, and prepared meal.

Additional Guidelines:

  1. Total expense of the whole meal must not exceed $11.
  2. If other items are being purchased for another purpose, try to do a separate transaction so that the receipt copied for this project only includes items for the challenge.
  3. Ingredients or components of meal cannot be itemized and subtracted from total cost; you must include whole cost of the food product.
  4. Example: if you purchase bread to make sandwiches, you must consider the cost for the whole loaf, not just the 8 slices to make four sandwiches.
  5. The receipt and items purchased for meal need to be purchased at no more than two stores/venues.
  6. Garden produce is not accepted for this challenge, it must be grocery purchases.
  7. Condiments that don’t count toward a portion size of a food group can be incorporated into the meal at no cost, assuming it is a staple item someone may already have in their pantry or refrigerator. (Examples: mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, spices or seasonings, oil or vinegar to cook food with, etc.)

Tips and Resources:

  1. USDA MyPlate website – Information regarding the five food groups and recommended serving sizes and equivalents is included here.
  2. Recommended Serving Sizes:
    1. Fruits: ½ cup each > similar to size of light bulb or computer mouse   
    2. Vegetables: ½ cup each > similar to size of light bulb or computer mouse
    3. Grains: 1-2 ounces, an ounce of grain may include ½ cup of rice or a slice of bread > similar to the size of a CD case
    4. Protein: 3 ounces > similar to the size of a deck of cards or the palm of an adult size hand
    5. Dairy: 1 cup equivalent = 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 oz cheese > similar carton of milk at school, individual yogurt cups, or 2 dominoes for a slice of cheese
  3. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website – Information on how to eat healthy on a budget. Check out the sections: Plan, Shop, and Cook.
  4. Thrifty Meal Challenge Worksheet
  5. Food and Nutrition 10490 Thrifty Meal Challenge Evaluation