Stay Connected

Thursday, April 11, 2019

How Do Beans Stack Up to Lean Chicken for Protein and Cost?

You might find this interesting. I did this research for my own purposes, but thought I'd share.

For protein content and value, how do beans compare to lean meat, such as cooked chicken breasts?

1  1/3 cups of cooked beans contain about the same amount of protein (about 19 to 22 grams) found in 3 ounces of lean chicken, which is the portion size of chicken that I use as a standard.

1  1/3 cups of cooked beans is about the amount in 3/4 of a 15-oz can of cooked beans.

With regards to cooking dried beans at home, 1  1/3 cups of cooked beans uses .44 cup of dried beans, weighing about .22 lb (or 3 and 1/2 ounces).

In most cases, it's cheaper to cook beans from dried than to buy canned, cooked beans. (But if you're wanting to compare the cost of canned beans to lean chicken, you'll use the price of 3/4 of a can of beans.)

.22 lb of dried pinto beans costs me about 12 cents. Add about 3 cents for gas and water for cooking. So I estimate for the protein equivalent of cooked-at-home beans that is about what is contained in lean chicken, cooking pinto beans myself costs about 15 cents.

In comparison, 3 ounces of lean chicken costs me about 33 to 37 cents (when boneless, skinless chicken breasts are about $1.79 to $1.99/lb). So, cooking beans from dried will save me over half the cost of buying BSCB.

I used boneless, skinless chicken breast for my comparison as it's very lean, producing little residual fat to be factored into the equation.

When it comes to bone-in poultry, I've always roughly estimated that bones/skin comprise about 1/3 or slightly more of the weight of the chicken parts, with legs and thighs being a little bit more bone/skin-heavy than breasts. So, when I'm looking at the cost of bone-in, skin-on chicken parts, I don't quite double the price per pound to get an estimate of price per pound for the protein that we'll use. If you're looking for a more detailed analysis of the meat percentages of various chicken parts Texas Agricultural Extension Service has a very detailed report with instructions for cost comparisons, here.

Lately, my chicken purchases have been chicken leg quarters. Walmart currently has a 10-lb bag of leg quarters for about $6. If I figure the meat-only part of the leg quarter is roughly 60%, at 60 cents per pound, my protein costs about $1 per pound, or about 19 cents per 3-oz serving. Beans are still a better deal for me, but only by a few cents per serving. In addition, the leg quarters are not nearly as lean as chicken breasts, so the protein content of 3 ounces of meat-only leg quarters may not meet that of 1  1/3 cups of cooked beans.

I hope this all made sense. My head is a little off this evening. I spent the afternoon at the dentist, and my thinking may be off. Correct me if I'm wrong. Do check out the link above. It could help you determine if bone-in chicken products are a good value for you.


  1. I didn't do the math, but I'm sure it's good.

    However, just to make it more complicated, there is a difference between the proteins in beans and chicken. Chicken is a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids and beans are an incomplete protein that have to be combined with something else, such as a grain, to become a complete protein. So technically, I think you have to add that in to do a true apples to apples comparison. I don't think that really matters for the purpose of this post, but I know how you like your calculations.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      yes, to get the full protein benefit, one does need to consume the complementary amino acids. Fortunately, the amino acids that complement those in beans are found in grains, which my family already consumes in large enough amounts to not need adding more to maximize the protein in beans.

      The other thing that should be noted is that these complementary amino acids do not need to be consumed in the same sitting as the beans, but can be consumed any time during the same day. So, even if I were to eat only beans at lunch, the grains that I ate at breakfast or snacks would be available for amino acid-scavenging. But most of the time, we add a grain food to the meals, anyway, as we do when we have meat. With a dinner based on meat as a protein, I'd likely add either a dried corn product, barley, brown rice, or a wheat product. So, its nothing "extra" to add a grain when I'm serving beans as the protein, and for my family at least, I'm not increasing our spending to "accommodate" the beans. This is how it works in my family and may also work in many other families, as Americans do tend to have a grain-heavy diet. As they say -- YMMV.

  2. I love posts like this. Especially when someone else does the math. :) Thanks. We will be eating more beans in the future.

    1. Hi Frugal in the USA,
      Beans are a good and cheap source of protein for many people. For my own family, replacing several meat-based meals with bean-based ones is sparing enough of our budget to allow us to stock-up on other items, and perhaps get ahead of the curve, in time, on our budget.

  3. I'm with Live and Learn, I didn't do that math, but I know in the end that's the best way to save money. Kudos to you. :)

  4. The only problem is a diabetic like me will need to check the carbs in beans which chicken does not have. I figured beans would cost less.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      I can understand. I have a family member who has insulin-dependent diabetes. He finds that he can control his weight best if following a strict low-carb diet. Best wishes to you.

  5. I did a quick Google search on beans, and though beef has far more zinc than beans, there are health benefits to eating beans often. I read that beans, since it is a vegetable, have fiber, folate, potassium, and phylate that is not present in meats. Soy has a compound that may prevent breast cancer.

    I still love our homemade bean patties, which we make in cookie sheets and cut in squares with a pizza cutter. Then we freeze IQF, and eat whenever we are short on meat protein, which happens at least once or twice a week. Today for lunch and dinner, husband made Thai green papaya salad, served with the bean patties. I think it went together better than meat.



Thank you for joining the discussion today. Here at creative savv, we strive to maintain a respectful community centered around frugal living. Creative savv would like to continue to be a welcoming and safe place for discussion, and as such reserves the right to remove comments that are inappropriate for the conversation.


Be a voice that helps someone else on their frugal living journey

Are you interested in writing for creative savv?
What's your frugal story?

Do you have a favorite frugal recipe, special insight, DIY project, or tips that could make frugal living more do-able for someone else?

Creative savv is seeking new voices.


share this post