Protein is a healthy food, but it's also a filling food. That means your family will feel more satisfied with less. If it's a choice between a salad and a burger, you don't have to be a burger lover to recognize that a simple salad may lead to snacking within a couple of hours of the meal. Add some garbanzo beans and some grated cheese to that salad, and they will make those greens a more filling and satisfying proposition. That's the power of protein. When you're trying to feed a family on a budget, veggies are important and fruits are fine, but it's the protein that makes for a filling meal.
When you're shopping for protein-rich foods:
- Buy in bulk - Bulk purchases are usually better bargains than their smaller serving counterparts. Larger quantities of eggs, chicken breasts and milk require less packaging and are less bulky to transport. Buy large "family pack" quantities and freeze what you don't plan on using right away. When you do prepare recipes, make double portions and freeze half. That way, you'll always have a protein-rich meal prepped in the freezer.
- Buy whole - Whole chickens, pork loins, roasts and other meat varieties can be purchased and cut to suit -- by you. Cutting meat doesn't take an advanced degree, and you can save by buying larger quantities, cutting and repackaging them yourself. Many meats are easy to cut with a little practice, so the process can take a few minutes once you get home from the grocery store. (If you're lucky, you may be able to get an accommodating butcher to do it for you, but often grocers offer bargain prices on whole cuts because they require less handling so any extra service may be subject to an additional fee.)
- Shop the extreme sales - You know about advertised sales, but most meat markets also have unadvertised sales of packaged products that are reaching the end of their freshness dates. They are usually displayed in the same meat market location every day and can sell for a much as 50 percent off the retail price. Shop early for the best selection, though, and use these items right away.
- Buy dry - Secondary proteins like grains and legumes are among the best protein deals at the store, and they're often at their cheapest when purchased dry. Head over to the rice aisle of your market and check out the dried lima beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, lentils, barley and brown rice. The bargains may surprise you, and these great ingredients can last up to a year in your pantry. When you want to use them, all they need is some water and a little TLC.
- Visit the deli - The deli department of most major grocery stores have sliced meats available for quick sale. Quantities that don't sell are often used as ingredients for the next day's sandwiches. If delis have too much product, though, they sometimes sell the overage at a reduced price. That sliced turkey or black forest ham is just as tasty, but sells for a lot less. Check out the policies at your market, and watch for sales.
- Join a warehouse store - Membership warehouse stores charge an annual fee to join, but offer attractive discounts on goods and services -- often including meats, dairy and other grocery store fare. The offerings are generally sold in bulk, too. These stores sell quite a few different products and if you buy enough, you can net a nice rebate -- enough to repay the membership fee and then some. One nice thing about these outlets is that they have everyday low prices that can often compete with the sale prices at your regular market.
- Shop the no frills markets - Bare bones markets can offer very good prices on canned goods, dairy and frozen meats, but don't expect convenience. If you don't mind paying a quarter to use a shopping cart (you get the quarter back when you leave), and the idea of bringing your own bag doesn't turn you off, you can find items like cheese, milk, yogurt, peanut butter, lunch meat and other basic proteins for less. These are often off-brands you won't recognize, and the selection may be limited and change without notice. If you want to net a pound of cheese for half-off what you'd pay at your regular market, or score a frozen turkey breast at a big savings, though, a no frills market may be your best bet.
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- Roth, J.D. "16 Ways to Eat Healthy While Keeping it Cheap." Get Rich Slowly. 7/30/07. (10/17/11). http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2007/07/30/16-ways-to-eat-healthy-while-keeping-it-cheap/
- Strong Lifts. "Build Muscle on a Budget: The 10 Cheapest Sources of Protein." 6/25/08. (10/17/11). http://stronglifts.com/build-muscle-on-a-budget-the-10-cheapest-sources-of-protein/
- USDA. "Food Groups - Protein Foods." 6/8/11. (10/17/11). http://www.choosemyplate.gov/foodgroups/proteinfoods.html
- USDA. "Tips to help you make wise choices from the Protein Foods Group." 6/8/11. (10/17/11). http://www.choosemyplate.gov/foodgroups/proteinfoods_tips.html