Protein: A cause for pause

Do your meal choices include hot dogs, bologna, and/or sausage? The appeal of quick and easy preparation is one reason we eat these foods.

For some, taste is the deciding factor. Another reason we buy these meats is their lower cost. Food purchases encompass a large percentage of our income and many try to save money at the grocery store.

While these foods are OK to eat on occasion, we definitely don’t want to choose these too often. Hot dogs, bologna and sausage are low in protein and the fat and sodium content is high. Better low-cost choices include protein-rich alternatives such as eggs, beans and nuts.

The average cost per serving for different types of protein foods may convince you to include more eggs and beans into your diet.

Canned meats such as chicken and tuna offer the same affordability and convenience of hot dogs and bologna but are healthier choices. When using canned meats, be creative – add them to stir fry, pasta dishes, soups and salads.

Another way to stretch our food dollars is to plan our meals around foods on sale. When family-sized lean ground beef is on sale, repackage into smaller portions using either freezer bags or freezer wrap. Stock up on favorites that are on sale for future use. If meats are not going to be used within three days, remember to store in the freezer rather than the refrigerator to prevent food borne illness.

You can also stretch your meat budget by watching your portion size. When making a stir fry or pot pie, focus on a variety of vegetables, using a smaller amount of lean meat. This is not only a money-saving strategy, but it is healthier. Dietary guidelines recommend half of our plate to be composed of fruits and vegetables. Many continue to focus their meal around the meat.

Here are a variety of foods with their protein content, with serving size and cost per serving in dollars: Ground beef (lean, extra-lean), 4 ounces, 1.18; Beef (round roast, USDA choice, boneless), 4 ounces, 1.16; Pork chop (boneless), 4 ounces, 1.00; Chicken breast (boneless), 4 ounces, 0.82; Pinto beans (canned, drained), 1/2 cup, 0.19; Eggs, grade A, large, 1 egg, 0.16; Pinto beans (dry), 1/2 cup, 0.07.

– (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service March 2013).

Finally, you can marinate cheaper cuts of meat to make them more tender and flavorful. Meat should marinate in the refrigerator for at least six hours to absorb the flavor and tenderize.

With the above strategies, including protein foods should not only be affordable, but easy and delicious, too. For something new, try this chicken and black bean quesadilla recipe tonight.

(Trisha Jessen is a family nutrition program educator with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Ward County. She can be reached by email at