Beyond Beef: Tasty, Frugal Protein
In an age of rising obesity rates and increasing health consciousness, many of us are wondering whether we have enough protein in our diets. Sources of protein are not only plentiful in several everyday food items, but most of them are also affordable. (See also: Peanut Butter: The Poor Man's Protein)
One of the best-known sources of protein is tempeh, a fermented food made from soybeans. A longtime staple food in Indonesia, tempeh is slowly gaining traction in the U.S. and popping up in grocery stores across the country. It’s also possible to make your own tempeh, generally a cheaper option using dried soybeans than buying premade tempeh from a store.
Eggs...From Your Own Chickens
If you’re seeking a good source of protein without paying an exorbitant amount for organic, cage-free eggs, why not raise your own chickens? There is an upfront investment (coop, chicken feed, the chickens themselves, etc.) and ongoing work involved, but having your own chickens means you know exactly how your egg-layers are treated and could offer a daily supply of fresh eggs. For more information, check out our own Linsey Knerl's article on raising backyard chickens.
Whether they’re dried and bagged or canned, beans are an excellent source of protein (and iron!) that won’t break the bank. According to the USDA, black and kidney beans have the highest protein content, followed by baked, pinto, and lima beans. Dry beans tend to be cheaper than their canned counterparts, but again, it depends on where you live and shop for groceries.
Options at Farmers Markets
Farmers markets are one of the best places to buy fresh, affordable produce. Offerings will vary from season to season, but you can often buy protein-rich produce such as soybeans and support your local economy at the same time.
Another source of protein for frugal-minded families is canned tuna. Costs vary from store to store, but online, you can buy over 3 lbs of canned tuna for as little as $12. Tuna packed in water is generally less healthy than tuna packed in olive oil, but if cost is your only concern, go with the cheaper options. However, buyer beware — according to Consumer Reports, mercury in canned tuna is still a pressing problem. Studies show higher levels of mercury in white tuna than light tuna, so be sure to keep this in mind while you’re shopping.
Whey protein powder purchased in bulk can be a frugal option, and it's especially convenient for those looking to add nutritional value to meal replacement shakes. Just make sure to watch out for allergies and overdependence (balance consumption with other sources of protein).
When discussing significant sources of protein, I couldn’t leave out organic meats such as chickens (raised without hormones) and grass-fed livestock. Unfortunately, organic meats tend to be quite pricey in comparison to their grain-fed, hormone-loaded counterparts. If quality outweighs price however, organic is the way to go with your meats.
What about you? Do you know of any other frugal sources of protein? Tell us in the comments below.