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We all know the cost of living has been going up lately. Groceries are no exception. If anything, their costs have skyrocketed more than anything else. The foods with the highest price increase? Meat. According to the USDA, foods such as poultry, fish and seafood, pork, and beef have had a price increase of 8% to 16% in the last year alone, with the average inflation being at an insane high of over 7%.
So what can I do to stick to get protein on a budget?
Well, one thing I’m really working on doing is eating less meat at home. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a great steak or roast, but at the end of the day, I can’t afford to spend $5 on a single chicken breast or $15 on a small roast beef. Not daily, anyways.
So, I’ve cut back drastically on my meat intake. The two main things I’ve done to achieve this goal are to make the meat stretch longer and add in alternative protein sources.
Soups and casseroles
If I were having a plate of food, I’d probably have about a whole chicken breast, a cup of veggies, and maybe some rice (though I’m not the biggest plain rice fan, so I probably wouldn’t even do that.)
Instead, what I do now, is cook my protein source and have it in very small pieces (think pulled pork, shredded chicken, ground beef, etc.). From there, I’ll put it in my soup or casserole. The biggest key I find here is making sure the meat is in smaller pieces. If you only have two medium-sized chunks of meat in your meal, chances are you’ll feel like you barely got any. On the other hand, if you have a little bit in every bite (even every other bite!), it’ll feel like you’re having more, even if it’s the exact same amount. It’s one of those weird psychological tricks, but trust me, it works.
Add more vegetables
I know not everyone loves vegetables, but I do. I find they add tons of flavor and nutrients, so I add as many as I can. I get it, though. Vegetables have been more and more expensive, too, though. The vegetables I tend to buy in a week, depending on what’s on sale. If there isn’t anything on sale, I mainly stick with frozen. My go-to? Frozen spinach.
Now I know for most, that may not sound super appealing. Heck, I tend to only like fresh spinach. However, when it’s disguised in sauce, I don’t even notice it. I’ve gotten in the habit, every time I make spaghetti, I’ll use a can of sauce and half a pack of frozen spinach. I can usually get my frozen spinach for $1.99, and it’s packed with fiber and nutrients. I also don’t even notice it in my casseroles and pasta.
A lot of my other affordable go-to cheap frozen veggies include; corn, peas, green beans, broccoli-cauliflower mix (I find the blend tends to be way less expensive than either vegetable on its own, and I can just divide it later if I only want one.), California mix and stir-fry blends.
Meat alternatives for protein on a budget
While I’ve gone over the basics, here are some of my go-to cheap protein options and alternatives.
- Tuna – It has so many great uses. I didn’t use to like it, but what can I say, it’s growing on me. I even had a tuna melt just before writing this article.
- Lentils – This is honestly one of my favorites. I almost always have two different kinds on hand. I will add lentils to just about anything. Even mashed potatoes (The orange ones will blend right in, be unnoticeable and add so much protein!)
- Beans – Be it kidney beans, black beans, baked beans, pinto beans, navy beans, honestly, the list goes on, but they are amazing. If you have time to cook them, I recommend getting the dried beans for a much better value, but canned beans are still a great price and super quick and easy.
- Edamame and Tofu – I know not everyone will be fond of these two options, and that’s okay. I’m still going to list them, though, because both can be extremely versatile, cheap, and packed with protein. Though, if you’re going for the Edamame, I recommend frozen as it’s much more affordable and easy to find.
- Nuts and Seeds – While some of these can run expensive, I recommend peanuts and sunflower seeds for great frugal and filling options.
- Protein Powder – I love keeping protein powder on hand. Not only is it good for a smoothie in a pinch, but I’ll sometimes also mix mine with iced coffee or even add a little to my baked treats for a few extra nutrients.
What are your go-to protein sources?
There are so many, and I’m sure there were some that I’ve missed. These are just the ones I almost always have on hand in a pinch.
Share your best frugal sources for protein on a budget in the comments!
About Chloe Morgan
Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea.