Protein is so important in our diets, but it can also be one of the most expensive parts. So how can you get enough protein without breaking the bank?

Beans & Legumes

Beans are a staple here at our house! Bean burritos are my go-to quick meal and lentil and bean soups warm us up in winter. A bag of dry beans just can’t be beat! Take a look at the nutrition info on the bag of beans and you’ll see protein, fiber, vitamins, and very little fat. Plus beans come in such a variety of shapes, sizes and colors! Black beans, red kidney beans, navy beans, chickpeas lima beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, various lentils, and the list could go on..

You can use beans to cut back on meats by either replacing the meat in a meal with beans, like bean burgers, or by using the beans to stretch the meat, like using beans to stretch the meat in chili.

Bean Recipe Ideas:
Basic Bean Cooking and Freezing
Crock Pot Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
Stretched Taco Meat
Crock Pot Savory Pinto Beans
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Bean Burgers

Beans are a perfect low-cost source of protein!

Other Vegetarian Options

Okay, so I  mentioned beans and legumes, but if beans aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of other options. Eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts and seeds are great protein sources. Try quiches, egg burritos, smoothies, or sunflower seeds sprinkled on your salad. Check out this list of  fruits and vegetables high in protein…a few of them really surprised me!

No-Bean Meatless Recipe Ideas:
Spinach Mushroom & Feta Crustless Quiche
Veggie & Cheese Pizza
Egg Salad Sandwiches
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (Try tomato or avocado added to them!)

Hunt, Fish or Raise Your Own Meat

This isn’t an option for everyone, but even if it is, make sure you don’t spend more on tools and equipment than you save in meat. We’ve  received quite a bit of free venison from people we know getting more deer than they need and generously giving us some. It’s been a huge blessing to us!

Another option, if you want to raise your own, but can’t is to purchase a side of cow. I’ve never done this but you can go to this article to read more about it. I imagine you could also do this for pork and other animals.

Recipe Ideas for Venison:
Venison Steaks
Roast with potatoes and carrots
Stew with a variety of veggies
Kabobs (especially if you marinate them for awhile before cooking)

Buy Meat On Sale

Some cut of meat is pretty much always on sale at your local store, if it happens to be the kind of meat you like, you could always plan that week’s menu around it or buy extra to freeze for future use. For example, if whole chickens are normally 99 cents a pound in your area, but you see them go on sale for 79 cents a pound (20 cents less for every pound), you could decided to cook up a whole chicken that week, or buy a couple of chickens for the freezer to tide you over until the next time they go on sale.

Other options are to buy meats with price matching, if you know of a good sale at another store. Just make sure to check your store’s policy. You can also keep a look out for “reduced for quick sale” meats. I used to buy hamburger a lot at Sam’s Club this way. As long as you cook or freeze it soon after, it’ll be fine.

Purchasing sale meats and freezing them in individual bags can save a lot of money!

Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat

Even with sales, there are certain cuts of meat that are usually cheaper than others. For example, whole chickens are a lot cheaper per pound than t-bone steaks. At our house we eat a lot of hamburger meat, whole chickens and chicken breasts (even though bone-in breasts are cheaper, I usually opt for the boneless skinless kind).

Canned salmon is a great way to get cheap fish. Canned salmon is really healthy with omega-3, and doesn’t have as much mercury as some other types of fish. We’ve used canned salmon for salmon patties and salmon melts.

Canned salmon is a cheap way to buy fish.

Stretch Meat

You can easily stretch the meat in recipes. I’ve started putting black beans in chicken tortilla soup to stretch the chicken, or make your layer of meat thinner in shepherd’s pie, but add a thicker layer of mashed potatoes. I like to make my taco meat half with hamburger meat and half with black beans.

Stretching Taco Meat with Beans and Potatoes

Serve an Abundance of Sides

Let’s say you’re making roast for a crowd, you can make sure to add lots of extra potatoes and carrots to help fill everyone up and stretch the meat.

Only have enough hamburgers for everyone to have one, but you’re feeding some hungry teenage boys? Serve up plenty of home-made oven fries or another filling side to guarantee they don’t go away hungry!

Lots of carrots and potatoes help stretch roast!

Make Broth with the Bones

When you’re done with your meat, don’t toss the bones, instead use them to make a hearty broth perfect for soups, stews and even casseroles! Sometimes I make chicken broth at the same time as cooking the chicken. Recently I read an interesting article about how important bone broths are for the health of your gums and teeth! Talk about a healthy reason to not waste bones!

How do you get protein without spending an arm and a leg?

This post is linked at Frugally Sustainable.




5 Responses to “Eating Healthy on a Budget #2: Protein”

  1. I use brown rice to stretch my taco meat!!

  2. I have never cared much for the taste of meat, but loved beans when I learned years back I could get all the protein I needed from non-animal sources I was thrilled. My boys wanted meat, but were happy with meat being a side or used sparingly in meals like chili with an abundance of beans and vegetables.

  3. Great tips! I love beans and use them to stretch out meat in almost everything. My husband is a big meat eater, but we rarely serve meat as the main course. He is slowly coming around. One thing I would suggest if you have heavy meat eaters in the house(like I do), is try serving some meatless meals at lunch time. Bean and cheese burritos, bean burgers, cheese quesadillas, are great to try then.

  4. I use rice to stretch my taco meat too! I’m going to have to start adding beans too. We eat meat, but in much smaller amounts than many people. I’m not a big bean eater, but enjoyed reading the other places I could get protein. I’m working on acquiring the taste for beans.

  5. I buy a lot of lentils at a immigrant store, way way cheaper than than the normal norwegian stores. I use it to stretch any kind of ground meat. It`s such a good way of adding more protein!

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