It’s not easy being a single parent. Feeding the family may be one of the most difficult tasks, especially for a single mother. About 31 percent of mothers in the United States were unmarried as of March 2013, and 61 percent of those mothers reported their family income was less than $30,000 a year, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.
A Typical Family
The average family headed by a single mother includes the mom and two children -- 1.7 children to be exact, according to the Pew Research Center. The youngest child is about 7 years old. A person’s age affects food spending, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which calculates food costs based on age and gender. Single parents with two children spent 25 to 34 percent of their income on food in 2011, according to the USDA. Mothers with older children tended to spend more money on food.
Costs for Food
The number, age and gender of a single mother’s children will affect her food expenses, according to the USDA. The weekly food cost for a 1-year-old child, for example, could range from $21.50 to $39.40. A single mother could expect to spend $31.10 to $61.30 on children aged 6 to 8. The average weekly cost to feed a 14- to 18-year-old boy ranges from $39.00 to $69.10, while the cost for a girl in the same age group ranges from $37.50 to $56.00 a week. The cost for the mother’s food would range from $37.50 to $74.30. Since the majority of single mothers earn less than $30,000 a year, it is reasonable to assume that they will spend the lower amounts.
Two factors that could affect a mother’s food budget are the ability to raise some of her family’s food and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program. One gardener in Maine calculated that his 1,600 square foot garden grew enough food to save $1,914.50 a year when compared to the cost of the same food in a conventional supermarket, according to a July 2009 article on TheDailyGreen website. The purpose of the SNAP program is to prevent hunger in low-income families. A single mother with two children could qualify for an average of $489 under SNAP each month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SNAP benefits can only be used for food purchases.
The Weekly Budget
Single mothers whose family income is $30,000 a year could be expected to spend $7,500 to $10,200 a year for food, based on the USDA’s estimates of food expenditures of 25 to 34 percent of total income. That level of expenditure is equivalent to $144 to $196 a week for food. Regional expenses, however, could affect the amount a single mother has available for food. The USDA notes that child-rearing expenses are lowest in the urban South and rural areas, but highest in the urban Northeast. Although most of these expenses were not food-related, a single mother in a high-cost area might need to divert money from her food budget for other expenditures.
- Pew Research Center: Modern Parenthood
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Official USDA Food Plans - Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, May 2013
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Expenditure on Children by Families, 2011
- The Daily Green: The $600 Garden Vegetable You Can Grow
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Policy Basics - Introduction to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)