Best Sources of Protein on a Budget

Americans’ appetite remains strong for protein and many foods now tout “protein” prominently on the label. It’s a sought-after nutrient with wide appeal. Studies suggest that eating enough protein at every meal, especially at breakfast, helps you stay fuller longer. Many experts recommend 25-30 grams at each meal.

If you’re seeking out more high-protein foods, you may notice that the costs are inflating your grocery bill. But you can increase your daily protein intake without breaking the bank.

When you’re adding protein-rich foods to your grocery cart, make sure you’re buying high-quality sources of protein and factor in the cost. Try to maximize the grams of protein you’re getting for your dollar — you want to get the best protein bang for your buck.

Milk is one of the best protein bargains for your dollar. One 8-ounce serving of milk contains 8 grams of high-quality protein, so that’s a gram of protein for every ounce.  That’s a real bargain for about 25 cents a glass. This calculates to 32 grams of protein per dollar.

Plant-based proteins like beans and peas also can be great economical choices, yet most plant proteins are not considered “complete” proteins, which provide the full mix of essential amino acids our bodies need.  Or you may reach for protein bars that contain 20 grams of protein, yet these pricey options rarely contain natural protein sources. Many include added soy protein isolate or other forms of processed protein, and often contain added sugar and more calories than you may realize.

Here’s a look at how various protein foods stack up when you factor in the price.


More Than 30 grams/dollar

Eggs (1 dozen)

37 grams/dollar

Milk (gallon) 32 grams/dollar

20-30 grams/dollar 

Chicken (boneless breast) (1 lb) 29 grams/dollar
Canned Tuna (light, in water) (5-oz can) 25 grams/dollar*
Ground Beef (85% lean) (1 lb) 22 grams/dollar

Less than 20 grams/dollar

Sirloin (1 lb) 12 grams/dollar
Firm Tofu (14-oz package) 10 grams/dollar*
Quinoa (8-oz box) 9 grams/dollar*
Salmon Fillet (3/4 lb) 5 grams/dollar*


*Based on available online data, may not be nationally representative.

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**Protein values based on average price of product and protein content. Price estimates based on a combination of sales data from IRI, total U.S., multi-outlet, calendar year 2014; Retail prices for beef, pork, poultry cuts, eggs, and dairy products, calendar year 2014, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service; and average online grocery prices.