Shopping for Meats and Other Proteins

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A woman and two children choose yellow, white, or red onions in a grocery store.

Shopping for Meats and Other Proteins


Go lean.

Choose lean cuts of beef like round or sirloin. Choose ground beef that is at least 95-percent lean.

Trim fat from beef or pork steaks, chops, ribs, or roasts before you cook them. Take the skin off of chicken before you cook it. After cooking, drain off any fat and throw it away.

Go fish.

Choose seafood instead of meat or chicken at least twice a week. Try different kinds of fish, especially fish that are high in healthy oils and low in mercury, like salmon and trout.

Catfish and tilapia are often an inexpensive option for fish. If you have space in your freezer, look for sales or discounts on bulk packages of individually frozen fillets. These will save you money and time because the fillets thaw and cook very quickly.

Choose fresh or frozen whole fish or fillets, instead of pre-breaded or processed options.

Canned fish like tuna or salmon can also be a good value. Choose fish packed in water rather than oil. Season it with a little black pepper or lemon pepper instead of mayonnaise.

Be an egghead.

Eggs are a smart option! They are a good, inexpensive source of protein. And they can be cooked in a variety of ways.

Boiled or scrambled eggs are a quick and easy option for a meal any time of the day. A quiche or casserole can stretch just a few eggs to feed the whole family!

Try plants!

You may be surprised to know that many kinds of beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and soy are good sources of plant-based proteins. They are lower in saturated fat than meats, and they can be good sources of fiber, too!

Look for these kinds of beans and peas:

  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans)
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Split peas
  • White beans (includes cannellini beans, navy peas, and great northern beans)

If you buy your beans or peas dried, be sure to rinse them before cooking them. If you buy them canned, drain off the liquid in the can and rinse them before cooking.

You can find soy foods in several forms. Tofu, tempeh, and many kinds of veggie burgers are made from soy. You can also find whole soybeans, also called edamame (pronounced “ed-ah-mah-may”), usually in the frozen foods section of your grocery store. If you find them still in the pods, it’s fine to cook them that way. But don’t eat the pods. Just eat the beans inside!

Sometimes you feel like a nut!

Unsalted nuts and seeds are great as a snack. You can also use them to add protein and crunch to salads and other dishes.

Nuts and seeds pack a lot of nutrition and calories into a small package. Keep your portions small!

You can find nuts and seeds in the produce section, the baking section, and the snack section of your store. Compare the price per ounce to choose the lowest-cost option.

Keep your sandwich healthy!

Make your sandwiches with turkey, roast beef, canned tuna or salmon (but not a mayo-based salad!), or peanut butter.

Many cold cuts or deli meats, like ham, bologna, and salami, are high in fat and sodium.

Use a little mustard instead of mayonnaise to cut down on fat.

Cook smart.

Try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking meats. These cooking methods add great flavor without adding fats.

Leaner meats are often less expensive. But they need to be cooked low and slow, with moist heat, to keep them tender. Use a slow cooker or a covered pot or baking dish in your oven. Use a cooking liquid that will add flavor, but not fat.

If you really need that crunch, use olive oil or cooking spray to add a light coating of bread crumbs or crushed plain cornflakes to chicken, pork, or fish before baking. This will give you the crunch you crave without the fat and calories of heavy breading and frying.

Check the salt.

Look at the Nutrition Facts label to find out how much sodium a food contains.

Many canned foods, like beans, meats, soups, and vegetables, contain a lot of sodium. Choose low-sodium or no-salt-added versions of these foods.

Processed meats, like ham, hot dogs, and sausages, can also be high in sodium. Choose the option with the lowest sodium, and save these foods to have as a special treat.

Even some fresh meats, like chicken, turkey, or pork, are brined in a solution containing salt. Try to find versions of these foods packaged without the brine.