How much in a day?

Protein comes from both plant and animal sources. Plant protein is usually less expensive than animal protein. It is healthy to eat a mix of proteins from plant and animal sources. Most of us eat more protein than we need. The table below shows how much protein is recommended and how much protein we get from different choices.

Daily Recommendation*
Children 2-3 years old: 2 ounce equivalents
4-8 years old: 4 ounce equivalents
Girls 9-13 years old: 5 ounce equivalents
14-18 years old: 5 ounce equivalents
Boys 9-13 years old: 5 ounce equivalents
14-18 years old: 6.5 ounce equivalents
Women 19-30 years old: 5.5 ounce equivalents
31-50 years old: 5 ounce equivalents
51+ years old: 5 ounce equivalents
Men 19-30 years old: 6.5 ounce equivalents
31-50 years old: 6 ounce equivalents
51+ years old: 5.5 ounce equivalents


*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within caloric needs. Source: MyPlate


  Amount that counts as 1 ounce-equivalent in the Protein Foods Group Common portions and ounce-equivalents
Meats 1 ounce cooked lean beef

1 ounce cooked lean pork or ham

1 small steak (eye of round, filet) = 3 ½ to 4 ounce-equivalents

1 small lean hamburger = 2 to 3 ounce-equivalents

Poultry 1 ounce cooked chicken or turkey, without skin

1 sandwich slice of turkey (4 ½” x 2 ½” x 1/8″)

1 small chicken breast half = 3 ounce-equivalents

½ Cornish game hen = 4 ounce-equivalents

Seafood 1 ounce cooked fish or shell fish 1 can of tuna, drained = 3 to 4 ounce-equivalents
1 salmon steak = 4 to 6 ounce-equivalents
1 small trout = 3 ounce-equivalents
Eggs 1 egg 3 egg whites = 2 ounce-equivalents
3 egg yolks = 1 ounce-equivalent
Nuts and seeds ½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves)
½ ounce of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, or squash seeds, hulled, roasted)
1 Tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter
1 ounce of nuts of seeds = 2 ounce-equivalents
Beans and peas ¼ cup of cooked beans (such as black, kidney, pinto, or white beans)

¼ cup of cooked peas (such as chickpeas, cowpeas, lentils, or split peas)
¼ cup of baked beans, refried beans

¼ cup (about 2 ounces) of tofu
1 ox. tempeh, cooked
¼ cup roasted soybeans 1 falafel patty (2 ¼”, 4 oz)
2 Tablespoons hummus

1 cup split pea soup = 2 ounce-equivalents
1 cup lentil soup = 2 ounce-equivalents
1 cup bean soup = 2 ounce-equivalents1 soy or bean burger patty = 2 ounce-equivalents


Source: MyPlate

Since meat is often the most expensive part of the meal, filling up on meat can challenge your food budget.

The amount to buy for your family depends on the amount of bone or fat.

  • One pound serves four if it has no bones or fat
    • Ground beef, stew meat, cubed steak, boneless ham, fish fillets, lunch meats
  • One pound serves three if it has some bone and fat
    • Pork chops, chuck roast, picnic ham, turkey parts, bone-in fish
  • One pound serves two when it has many bones or more fat
    • Whole chickens and turkeys, spare ribs, ham hocks


Storing and Discarding

Fresh meat and eggs should be stored in the refrigerator. Eggs will keep in the refrigerator for three weeks after their sell by date. When storing fresh meat in your refrigerator, put it on the lowest shelf on a plate. This way if it leaks, juices will not contaminate other foods.

Divide large packages of meat into smaller portions for freezing. It is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its supermarket wrapping but this type of wrap allows air to get in. Unless you will be using the food in a month or two, wrap these packages for long term storage using one of the following:

  • Plastic freezer bag
  • Heavy-duty foil
  • Plastic freezer wrap
  • Freezer paper

While raw ground meat stays fresh in the freezer for three to four months, larger pieces of meat like steaks or chops will be good for four to 12 months according to the USDA. At 0º F, frozen foods remain safe indefinitely but quality may be affected.


Protein Choices

Choose either dried or canned beans

  • Both canned and dried beans are healthy choices of protein. They both provide the same amount of fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
  • Dried beans are less expensive but take more planning to use. Try our stovetop and slow cooker methods for preparing dried beans.
  • Canned beans have more sodium. If you’re concerned about sodium but like the convenience of using canned beans, you can drain and rinse the beans to remove some of the sodium.

Stretch your protein dollar

  • Choose a mixture of protein foods from plant and animal sources. Eggs, peanut butter, and beans are less expensive than many meat sources but still high quality protein.
  • Check store ads to see what meats are on sale and base meals on them.
  • All beans are an inexpensive protein source, but dry beans are the most economical.
  • Stock up if you have the freezer space to do so. Meat and poultry, including unopened vacuum packages, can be frozen in their original supermarket packaging. If storing more than a month or two, place the store package inside a plastic freezer bag and overwrap it with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper. Label with contents and date.

Practice your meat-stretching artistry

  • Mix meat with beans, lentils, rice, pasta, or vegetables.
  • Use beans or a mixture of beans and ground beef or turkey in tacos.
  • When making stir-fry, use more vegetables than meat.
  • Add dry rice, bread crumbs, or oatmeal to meatballs or meatloaf.

Reducing fat in ground beef

Buying ground beef with a high percentage of fat (85% lean or less) is usually less expensive per pound but yields less meat. However, you can save money with the less expensive ground beef if you rinse and drain it after browning.

Follow these easy steps to remove excess fat when cooking ground beef for spaghetti sauce or other uses.

  1. Place beef in a fine mesh strainer or colander set on a sturdy large bowl.
  2. Pour four cups very hot water over beef to rinse fat. Let the water and fat drain into the bowl.
  3. Leave the bowl of water and fat in the fridge until the fat solidifies on top.
  4. Use rinsed beef as desired (or freeze for later use).