Finding a cheaper protein | Cut your grocery budget down to size

Black-eyed peas

Replacing meat with grains, legumes and nuts can really cut down your grocery bill. Image from Flickr.

The average grocery bill for a family of four in the United States is anywhere from $586 to $1,159. For most American families, meats make up forty percent or more of that food budget. With food costs expected to rise quickly in the next five years, cutting your grocery budget is one step many families are investigating. Eating cheaper, however, should not mean eating less healthily.

The math behind a cheap diet

A healthy cheap diet does not necessarily mean a diet that takes more work. While a few $1 burgers at a fast food joint seem like a great option to eat cheaply, they are actually expensive. A family of four will eat about 360 meals every month. Even a very liberal food budget of $1,159 means each meal for each person needs to clock in at no more than $3.22. One easy way to cut down on how much you spend is simple: eat less meat.

The ‘weekday vegetarian’ idea

Going entirely vegetarian, while is cheaper in many ways, is simply not a move everyone wants to make. Cutting meat out of even part of your diet, though, can cut more than $200 a month out of your food budget. You can also try making meat a smaller portion of your meal – the USDA recommended serving size for meat is just three ounces, not the five to eight that most Americans eat. You don’t have to give up meat, just eat it a little bit less – your pocketbook will thank you.

So what should you eat?

If you’re not eating meat, that doesn’t mean vegetables should replace everything in your diet (though more vegetables never hurt anyone). A complete protein, though, is important in helping you feel satisfied after a meal. Replacing your meat, then, with some other protein is important. Try replacing your $2 – $3 per serving meat with:

  • Rice and beans – about 20 cents per serving
  • Hummus – about 30 cents per serving
  • Lentils with a nut sauce – about 45 cents per serving
  • Oatmeal with milk – about 25 cents per serving

The basic idea is to combine legumes, grains and nuts or seeds together at some point during the day. Alone, each of those three groups do not make a complete protein. Together, though, any of the two of them do.

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