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Grocery Savings – The 5 Best Cheap Protein Sources

May 2, 2024 | Meal Planning | 0 comments

Best Cheap Protein Sources

Want to eat a high protein diet without breaking the bank on groceries? Get the 5 best cheap protein sources to buy right now. With recipes for tasty budget protein options!

Key Takeaways:

  • You don't have to sacrifice quality protein for the sake of grocery budget. If you get creative and stay flexible with your grocery list, you can have both quality and cost savings.
  • Pork chops, ground turkey, roasts, cod and beans are five of my favorite budget proteins – scroll down for recipes for each of these cheap protein sources!
  • These cheap protein foods can help you meet your protein goals while sticking to a real food diet. Protein powders and packaged “protein foods” can get expensive and you don't need to use them if you don't want to.

They say you have to choose two out of three when it comes to quality, convenience and price. That may be true for some things but I refuse to believe it when it comes to groceries.

Call me naive but I truly believe I can feed my family a nutritious, high protein diet without spending all of my money on groceries or devoting hours to cooking every day.

The key? Strategic budget protein selection! There are plenty of budget protein options out there that still taste great and offer plenty of nutrition. You just have to know where to look. And you have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. If you're used to rotating through the same selection of steak, salmon and chicken breast, you may need to branch out a bit to keep the grocery costs down. That's why I've included recipes and tips for each of the budget protein options listed below. Trust me, there really are cheap protein foods that are still healthy and delicious – no need to resort to powders!

One caveat before we get started – even more than this list of the best cheap protein sources, what will help you achieve the most grocery savings is meal planning and flexibility. Going into the week with a plan helps you avoid those impulse purchases AND avoid food waste (AKA money waste). Remaining flexible allows you to select the items that offer the most value that week. Say you have tacos on the menu but ground beef is super pricey that week. Choose ground turkey! Say you have salmon on the menu but it's stretching your grocery budget further than you'd like. Choose a different fish that's on sale!

Keep those two things in mind and add the following proteins into your rotation and you'll see grocery savings without ever sacrificing quality.

The 5 Best Cheap Protein Sources

In my opinion, these are the 5 best cheap protein sources out there. Prices of course vary from week to week so make sure to scan the meat and seafood counters carefully to find the best budget protein options on a given week.

1. Pork Chops

If you love steak but increasing grocery costs make it out of budget, give pork chops a try. Pork chops are one of the best cheap protein sources out there and, like chicken, they're super flavorful.

Have memories of dry, chewy pork chops from your childhood? You're not alone! However, the USDA decreased the recommended temperature for cooked pork from 160 F to 145 F and it makes all the difference. Use a meat thermometer and make sure not to overcook the pork. This gives you juicy, flavorful meat.

Want some recipe inspiration? Here are some of my favorite ways to cook this budget protein option:

Pork Roulades

Pork Roulades

Pork roulades are perfect when you want a date night or special occasion meal that won't be too pricey. Just as fancy as a nice steak, roulades make great use of budget-friendly pork chops and are way easier than you'd think.

How to Make Stuffed Pork Chops

Stuffed Pork Chops

In this recipe, bone-in pork chops are stuffed with sautéed apples, onions and celery. Sage and thyme lend delicious herbaceous notes to the pork as well. Elevated comfort food at its best!

Rosemary Pork Chops Budget Proteins

Grilled Rosemary Pork Chops w/ Grilled Nectarines

If you love grilling as much as I do, mix it up and give grilled pork chops a try! Grilling gives the pork so much flavor, you really don't have to do much to end up with a delicious meal.

Don't miss the side dish included in this recipe, grilled nectarines with rosemary and honey. I have a thing for grilled fruit and this iteration does not disappoint!

Roasted Pork w/ Apples & Rutabaga

This is one of those one pot meals that makes dinnertime seem easy. Rutabaga, apples and pork chops cook together in a dutch oven with a bit of apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper and rosemary. Once it's in the oven, this roasted pork dish is hands-off and the cleanup is super easy!

2. Ground Turkey

When ground beef is out of budget, ground turkey is an excellent budget protein substitution. Whether you're making tacos or pasta sauce, ground turkey is a natural sub for ground beef.

Healthy Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes w/ Ground Turkey & Buffalo Sauce

My stuffed sweet potatoes feature not one, but TWO amazing homemade sauces. Drizzled with homemade ranch and homemade buffalo sauce, this is a dish that is sure to liven up your dinner rotation.

Paleo Lasagna

Paleo Turkey & Zucchini Lasagna

Paleo lasagna has been one of my signature dishes since way back before I started Prep Dish! When I used to work as a personal chef, my healthy take on lasagna was one of my most requested recipes.

This version features ground turkey, zucchini, mushrooms and fresh basil.

Turkey Taco Soup

Turkey Taco Soup

Turkey taco soup is a frequent contender for our subscribers' favorite recipes! It packs all of that addictive taco flavor into an easy, nutritious weeknight soup.

Baked Polenta Casserole

Baked Polenta Casserole

Similar to lasagna, my baked polenta casserole is pure comfort food. Polenta is layered with a saucy turkey mixture for an easy dish that's sure to become a family favorite.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Mediterranean Stuffed Bell Peppers

Artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley and feta give these stuffed bell peppers a Mediterranean feel. Ground turkey adds a punch of protein to this festive dinner dish.

Juicy Turkey Burgers

Juicy Turkey Burgers

Turkey is a great cheap protein food to substitute for burgers. But this is one case where I don't recommend a one-for-one sub. Because it's so lean, turkey needs a little something more to make a great burger. These four turkey burger variations are delicious, never-dry and full of flavor.

3. Roasts

When looking for the best cheap protein sources, don't overlook roasts. The price may not be the lowest on the shelf but roasts generally cover multiple meals. I love this for a couple of reasons. First, it means I can use my favorite “cook once, serve twice” strategy, repurposing the roast in different ways. I may serve it with carrots and potatoes one night and then serve the leftovers as tacos or in sandwiches. This saves me a night of cooking, without feeling like we're eating leftovers!

Second, roasts tend to be a great option in terms of budget, which I'm all about! This is true of both chuck roasts and pork roasts. Both are great options for cheap protein foods.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use this budget-friendly cut of meat:

Green Chili Beef Burritos

Green Chili Beef Burritos

Chuck roast cooks alongside green chiles, onion, diced tomatoes and plenty of spices for a flavorful, budget-friendly, protein-packed meal! You can serve the beef in tortillas, lettuce wraps or bowl-style atop rice or cauliflower rice. Add your favorite toppings and you're good to go!

Barbacoa Lettuce Wraps

Beef Barbacoa Lettuce Wraps

You can cook the chuck roast in either the slow cooker or Instant Pot for this one. It comes out deliciously tender either way! I love serving with thinly sliced radishes, cilantro, crumbled quest fresco and lime wedges!

Pulled Pork Cheap Protein Meals

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Don't miss my homemade bbq sauce in this one! Sweetened with a bit of honey, it's way healthier than the bottled variety and, in my opinion, tastier too!

You can enjoy the pulled pork with biscuits and slaw the first night and serve leftovers in sandwiches, wraps or atop a salad.

Turmeric Pork Paleo Slow Cooker Recipe

Turmeric Pork

This pork is really versatile. You can serve it with simple sides, in lettuce wraps, in a quinoa bowl or on a salad. If you want a good meal prep protein for lunches, this would be a great choice.

4. Cod

You may not think of seafood when you think of the best cheap protein sources but, in my experience, cod is one of the best budget-friendly seafood options out there. It has a nice, mild flavor so may be a good choice if you have family members who are less than enthusiastic about seafood. You can find quality frozen cod at both Costco and Whole Foods. Tilapia is another budget-friendly seafood choice.

Just like with the pork chops, be careful not to overcook this one! It can get dry and chewy if cooked too long.

Fish Taco Bowls

Paleo Fish Taco Bowls

As written, this recipe calls for tilapia but cod works really well here too! This is a perfect example of how you can be flexible and use the protein option that looks best / is the best deal when you're grocery shopping.

Lemon Mustard Cod

This recipe isn't on the blog (yet!) but it's simple enough to just share here.

Combine the following to make a sauce: 1/4 cup olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 2 tsp dijon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp paprika, 2 tsp honey.

Brush half of the sauce on 4 cod filets and bake at 400 F for 10-15 minutes until flaky. Serve cod with remaining sauce and your favorite easy sides!

5. Beans & Lentils

Of course, a list of the best cheap protein sources is not complete without beans and lentils!

Keep in mind, there are SO many kinds of beans. If you haven't found one you love yet, keep experimenting. I like to cook my beans from scratch, rather than use canned but you do whatever works for you.

One other tip – it doesn't have to be all or nothing! Try mixing beans into a dish with meat to get more servings out of the meal. For example, you might mix black beans with ground turkey for tacos or white beans with ground beef in a marinara sauce.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy this budget protein:

Middle Eastern Salad Recipe with Homemade Tahini Sauce

Middle Eastern Salad w/ Tahini Sauce

Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) provide a budget-friendly protein source in this hearty salad. Tahini also adds a bit of protein, as well as plenty of healthy fats.

Gluten Free Chili Mac

Black Bean Chili Mac

Black beans provide the protein in this vegetarian comfort food. The recipe also calls for gluten free pasta. If you choose a chickpea or lentil based pasta, that will add additional protein.

Vegetable Bean Soup

Vegetable Bean Soup

We first developed this recipe in the spring of 2020 when many were looking for pantry and freezer recipes. However, it became a big hit and is definitely one to hang on to! I love keeping ingredients for a few pantry / freezer recipes at all times for backup and this one is quite budget-friendly!

Black Bean & Quinoa Burgers

Craving a more budget-friendly burger recipe? I've got a winner for you!

Black beans, quinoa and an egg all contribute protein to this dish. Sliced avocado helps make this meal more filling.

Slow Cooker Chili

Crock Pot 3-Bean Chipotle Chili

My chipotle chili includes a mix of black beans, kidney beans and pinto beans. Chile is a great example of where you can mix beans and meat. If you like a chili with some meat, add some ground turkey or ground beef, in addition to the beans. You'll get your meaty chili, but in a more budget-friendly way.

Bonus! 3 More Great Budget Protein Options

I have a few extras for you here! For more ways to cut the grocery budget, check out my tips on Frugal Meal Planning. Have a favorite budget protein option that didn't make the list? Share with me in the comments or connect with me on Instagram @prepdish. I'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to our backyard chickens, we have plenty of high quality eggs on hand. If you don't have chickens though, don't worry! Even the highest quality organic eggs are still a relatively budget-friendly protein option.

I urge you to think outside the box here. Eggs aren't just for breakfast! Green Shakshuka, Moroccan Breakfast Hash or an Asparagus, Bacon & Feta Frittata all make an excellent dinner. Just serve with a simple green salad!

Canned Tuna

Don't overlook canned seafood to achieve some grocery savings. I recently shared my tuna salad bowl which works well for either lunch or an easy meal prep dinner.

Beef in Bulk

While beef is certainly not known for being super budget-friendly, you can get a lot better deal on beef if you buy a whole cow or a half of a cow. Check out the ins and outs of buying beef in bulk here!

More Resources for Meeting Your Protein Goals

If you're looking to up your protein, you're not alone! Wanting to increase protein has been a common goal in our Prep Dish community. Check out these resources I've put together to help you meet your protein goals.

Increase Protein Intake

7 Ways to Increase Protein Intake

These 7 tips will help you increase your protein intake, without the stress!

Home routine

11 High Protein Meal Prep Breakfast Ideas

If you're looking to increase your protein, getting in some quality protein at breakfast is key. That said, mornings are busy! That's why I compiled this list of high protein meal prep breakfasts so you can plan ahead for busy mornings and meet your goals.

Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps

33 Homemade High Protein Snacks

Snacks don't have to be a granola bar or a handful of crackers! Think outside the box at snack time to sneak in some extra protein and find a snack that will actually keep you full.

FAQ – Everything You Need to Know about the Best Cheap Protein Sources

What is the best cheap protein?

This naturally depends somewhat on your preferences but some of the best cheap protein options are beans, eggs, poultry and pork chops.

What cheap protein foods can I use for snacks?

Hard boiled eggs, peanuts and cottage cheese are all cheap protein foods that make great snacks. Check out my 33 Homemade High Protein Snacks for more ideas!

Can I get enough protein on a budget?

Absolutely! With a bit of flexibility and planning, you can certainly get enough protein on a budget. Just keep in mind, it may not all be chicken breast.

How do I make my groceries cheaper?

When trying to stick to a grocery budget, I recommend two things: flexibility and meal planning. After selecting your recipes for the week, make sure you're flexible when grocery shopping. If a certain veggie or protein is on sale, don't be afraid to make that substitution.

Meal planning is also a huge way to make groceries cheaper. It helps you avoid emergency takeout and reduce impulse purchases, both of which are easy ways to blow any budget.

Want more Grocery Savings Tips?

Want more grocery savings tips? Check out my article on How to Spend Less on Groceries or my 20 Healthy Budget Dinners!

Beginner Menu Guide


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Allison Schaaf Chef, Prep Dish

Prep Dish is a gluten-free, paleo, and keto meal planning website. Celebrity personal chef & dietitian Allison Schaaf thoughtfully crafts each plan using her own well-tested recipes. Each meal plan allows you, the home cook, to spend only 2-3 hours preparing a week’s worth of crave-worthy, healthy meals using seasonal, whole foods (nothing processed!). We aim to save you time while keeping your family’s taste buds happy.

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