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Meat Department

Pear mascot holding platter with roasted chicken

Great protein options can be found all over the grocery store.  You can find meat and beans in the canned and frozen food aisles, milk products and eggs in the dairy section, and dry beans and lentils in the dry good and bulk foods. But for most of the protein discussion during this tour, the focus will be on the meat and deli department, as well as tofu and meat substitutes.


Lunch meats and other deli items make for fast and easy sandwiches at lunch or a simple no-cook dinner. In the deli department, you may find meats and cheeses that you can have sliced however thick or thin you like. You may also find rotisserie chicken, hot dishes, and a variety of pre-made salads and sides. 

deli meat and cheeses

Deli Department: Know Before You Go

  • Choose deli meat options that are lower in fat and sodium. Turkey, chicken, lean ham, and roast beef are all good choices. Salami, bologna, pastrami, and other pressed and formed meats tend to have higher fat content.
  • Check out the prices on rotisserie chicken while in the deli department. While they may be a little higher in sodium, they can simplify your meal prep. Rotisserie chicken can be the centerpiece of your dinner or used as an ingredient in soups, casseroles, and chicken salad.
  • There are usually a lot of options when it comes to prepared side dishes in the deli. Aim for side dishes that are full of fruits or vegetables. Bonus if the dressing used is oil or vinegar-based versus mayonnaise or cream-based dressings. 

Meat Department

The choices in the meat department can be overwhelming. There are many types and cuts of meat to choose from and they can vary in nutrition content, as well as cost. For this part of the tour, we will focus primarily on how to find lean cuts of meat.

Meat marbling

Choose leaner cuts of meat when you can. The leaner cuts of meat include chuck, round, and loins. Skinless poultry is also a lean protein option in the meat department. Look for cuts with the least amount of marbling, which is the white streaks throughout the meat. 

ground beef percentage lean on package

You can also choose leaner ground meats by looking at the percentage. The percentage shown on the front of meat packages tells you how lean the meat is. So, the higher the percentage, the leaner the cut of meat.

For example, ground chuck is also known as 80% lean, ground round is also known as 85% lean, and ground sirloin is also known as 90% lean. 

Meat Department: Know Before You Go
  • To save on the higher cost of leaner cuts, look for “family packs” and “value packs”. Meat freezes well so buying larger quantities can sometimes be a better deal if you have the freezer space to store any extra that you can’t eat within a few days.
  • Lower-fat cuts of meat can sometimes cost more, but there are other ways to reduce the fat in meat. You can trim the white fat off the outside of meat. You can also choose lean cooking methods such as baking, broiling, or grilling. 
  • Talk to the butcher in the meat department. They will often cut larger pieces of meat into smaller sizes at no additional cost.

Fish and Shellfish

Fish may not be the first item you think of in the meat department, but the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week. Some of the best sources of omega-3-rich fish include: anchovies, herring, mackerel, cod, salmon, sardines, tuna, and whitefish.

You can find many of these fish in the seafood section of your store’s meat department, but you can also find fish in the frozen foods and canned goods sections.

Frozen Fish on platter

Fish and Shellfish: Know Before You Go

  • Choose unbreaded fish and shellfish when possible. The frozen food section has many options that are not breaded.  
  • Cod and tilapia are very mild flavored and are easiest to try if you are hesitant or don’t care for strong fish flavor. 
  • A simple way to prepare your fish fillet is to season it with salt, pepper and dill. Then, cook for 10 minutes per inch of thickness in 400F oven. Here’s an easy recipe to get you started. 

Meat Alternatives and Substitutes

Whether you are a lifelong vegetarian or just trying to eat less meat throughout the week, meat alternatives and meat substitutes can be great sources of protein. 

Meat alternatives are protein foods that do not contain animal products. Some examples of meat alternatives are tofu, tempeh, seitan, beans, and peas. Since many of these foods will be covered in other sections of the grocery store tour, only tofu, tempeh and seitan will be covered in this section. You can find many meat alternatives in a refrigerated section of the store. Tofu is one of the most popular meat alternatives, made by pressing soy milk into curds. Tofu is sold in various textures, from extra firm to soft. For more information on tofu, check out this blog post. Tempeh is made from fermented soy beans, while seitan is made from wheat gluten. Both are excellent protein sources and can be easy additions to many meals that traditionally contain meat. 

Meat substitutes are different in that they are plant-based foods which are meant to mimic the taste of meat. For instance, veggie burgers, veggie dogs, and veggie nuggets are all meat substitutes since they are meant to mimic the taste and texture of either burgers, hot dogs, or chicken nuggets. Meat substitutes are usually made up of various vegetables, beans and grains.

Bean and Rice Dish

Meat Alternatives and Meat Substitutes: Know Before You Go

  • When choosing tofu, choose what type based on how you plan on cooking the item. Choosing one that is too soft can result in a watery dish.
  • Many times when using tofu, you have to press the excess water from the tofu before using. 
  • Be sure to look at the Nutrition Facts label when picking out a meat substitute. Sometimes these items are really high in sodium, or not as high in protein as the original item.

While meat is typically a central part of the American diet, cutting back could save some money and free up some space on your plate to try a few new foods! Learn more about meat and non-meat protein options on our MyPlate page.