Stop Spending More than You Need on Protein!

3 Money-Saving Tips While Eating Protein

Read Time: 6 Minutes

Lately I’ve been trying to save money by eating out less and cooking more, which means actually going to the grocery store. This made me realize the most expensive part of any meal is usually the protein source (often some type of meat).

I’m fully aware of how important protein is in my diet. But I was curious to see if there was a way I could save money on my protein while grocery shopping.

So I went to the Trader Joe’s down the street from my apartment and started snapping photos of all the common high-protein foods I could find. Then I analyzed their prices and nutritional information.

This article covers everything I learned, and how a few small changes saved me a ton of money on my protein. Let’s get to it.

How much protein do I actually need?

Before we jump into my Trader Joe’s discoveries, let’s quickly discuss how much protein you actually need in your diet.

I’m no nutritionist, but the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) states that 50 grams of protein is the recommended daily value for adults. Of course, your exact needs will vary slightly, but this is a good starting point. That comes out to approximately 17 grams of protein per meal (50 grams per day / 3 meals per day = 17 grams per meal).

What’s interesting is that your muscles don’t need much more than that in any one sitting anyways. Around 25-30 grams of protein at a time is the maximum amount of protein your muscles can absorb. So wolfing down that 10 oz. steak or that giant chicken might not be benefiting you as much as you think. This led to my tip #1.

Tip #1: Reduce the size of your meat portions.

I know I only need about 17 grams of protein per meal to reach my recommended daily value of 50 grams per day.

I discovered a small chicken breast (weighing 6 ounces) has about 36 grams of protein. That’s twice what I need per meal. And an average steak (8 ounces) has about 55 grams of protein. That’s more than I need for the entire day!

To save money and stop eating unnecessary protein, I needed to cut my portions. A good rule of thumb is that 1 serving of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards, and will provide about 20 -25 grams of protein. A little more than you technically need, but hey, live a little.

Serving of Beef Deck of Cards
1 serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Source here.

I love meat, and would rather die before removing it from my diet entirely. But I was eating much more per meal than I really needed. I’ve now continued to eat meat, just in smaller portions per meal. Now my meat lasts much longer, I’m saving money & I’m eating healthier.

Beef & Bean Burger
Mix in black beans with your ground beef patties to eat less meat. Source here.

What foods are high in protein besides meat?

When I think of high-protein foods, I, like most people, immediately think of meat. Unfortunately, meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. So I started looking for alternatives. Some foods really surprised me.

For example, did you know that 1 bagel (9 grams of protein) has more protein than a standard 8 oz. glass of milk (8 grams of protein)? Or that 1 serving of spaghetti has just as much protein as 1 egg (both have 7 grams of protein)? Or how about that black beans and peanut butter each have 7 grams of protein per serving as well?

These weren’t foods I thought of as good protein sources. And best of all, they were way cheaper!

Tip #2: Find other sources of protein besides meat.

There are plenty of foods that are high in protein besides meat. The ones listed above are just a few examples. Granted, they aren’t as protein-dense as meat, but by including these foods in your diet, you can get a large amount of your protein at a much lower cost.

Here are some cheap & easy snacks/meals you can make that are high in protein, even without meat. If you’re like me (meaning a horrible cook), you’ll use just the ingredients I list below. But for you fancier types, I’ll link out to some more elegant versions of the same meals.

  1. 2 eggs, black beans & hot sauce (21 grams of protein). Fancy version here.
  2. Spaghetti, veggies & a glass of milk (15 grams of protein). Fancy version here.
  3. Peanut butter & banana bagel sandwich (16 grams of protein).
Eggs and Black Beans
Eggs and black beans are a cheap, quick, high-protein breakfast

Which high-protein foods offer the most bang for your buck?

So far we’ve looked at some alternative sources of protein besides meat that will save you money. But it’s time to do some math (don’t worry, I did it for you) to figure out which foods give you the most protein for the least amount of money.

Below is a graph that shows the cost per gram of protein for various foods I found at my local Trader Joe’s. I tried to find the cheapest brand of each food for the analysis, and limited my study to foods that had at least 7 grams of protein per serving. Of course, your exact cost will vary depending on your particular city, store, season, sales, etc. But this should be a good guide.

Graph comparing the cost of high-protein foods

Beef jerky was the most expensive at $0.14 per gram of protein, while spaghetti was the cheapest at $0.02 per gram of protein. The average amongst the foods I compared was $0.06 per gram of protein. Most of the expensive sources were various meats, while most of the cheaper sources were foods we mentioned above.

Tip #3: Shop smart when buying high-protein foods.

This graph can serve as a guide to what types of foods you can buy that are both high in protein and low in cost. I don’t avoid meats entirely, but I now try to buy more foods like beans, eggs & spaghetti. When I do buy meat, chicken breasts are much cheaper pre-sliced deli meat.

And when I just need a lot of protein really quickly, protein powder is usually a cheaper alternative than meat. Personally I like Optimum Nutrition Double Chocolate. I get sick of protein shakes if I drink them every day, but even a couple of times per week can save you a lot.

Wrapping It All Up

Most people spend way more on protein than they need to. They forget that foods besides meat can still provide a lot of protein for a fraction of the cost.

I’ve found that by reducing the size of my meat portions, adding more high-protein foods besides meat to my diet, and shopping smart, I can save a lot of money.

Hopefully this article was helpful. Tell me in the comments some of your favorite high-protein recipes.

The conclusions drawn throughout this website are not advice meeting the particular investment needs of any investor, and they are not intended to serve as the basis for financial planning, tax, or investment decisions. This website is for informational purposes only and is not a solicitation or an offer to buy any product, service, security or instrument. The opinions expressed throughout this website are my own and not those of any company I work for.