Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Incorporating vegetarian protein into a healthy meal plan

I often have individuals come to me struggling with how to incorporate protein into their diets.  Sometimes, the individuals are vegetarians; sometimes, it is the texture or taste of meats or poultry or seafood that is a turn-off, so recipes are a challenge; sometimes there is a food allergy (especially when it comes to fish, shellfish or eggs); sometimes it is a lack of an easy way to keep the animal proteins cold until lunch that prevents someone from packing a deli meat sandwich.  No matter the reason, many people (and, especially, women) struggle with getting enough healthy protein sources during the day.  Unfortunately, this can increase one’s chances of overconsuming carbohydrates and fats in order to meet hunger needs.

You see, protein plays a primary role in our satiety, helping us to control hunger and appetite.  Foods that help curb cravings and thus allow us to be pro-active in achieving or maintaining healthy weight include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and the right balance of fats – most of which should ideally be unsaturated fats, like those in plant oils (i.e. olive oil, canola oil, nuts) and fish.

So, if you find it a challenge to eat enough protein, here are some easy ideas to incorporate vegetarian-based proteins into your diet.  You can, of course, interchange the ideas across the meals.  Some ideas include dairy, egg and fish sources of protein, so if you are vegan, or ovo-vegetarian, you will need to find alternative protein sources to those options:

Breakfast

  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, yogurt and fruit
  • Whole grain english muffin with a slice of cheese, glass of soy or cow’s milk (rice, almond and hemp milk do not have as much protein as soy or cow’s milk) and fruit
  • 1-2 whole grain frozen waffles, yogurt to dip (instead of syrup) and fruit
  • Mini whole grain bagel with cream cheese, soy sausage (or an egg) and fruit
  • A protein-rich smoothie with Greek yogurt or protein powder (such as whey, soy or hemp protein powder) and a variety of fruits, veggies, herbs and/or spices

Lunch

  • Cottage cheese, fruit and a whole grain/protein-rich granola bar such as many of the Kashi, Luna, Clif, Kind plus protein, Nature Valley Protein or Odwalla Bars
  • Greek yogurt, fruit and an english muffin with a slice of cheese or nut butter
  • Veggie burger pattie (buy frozen and either microwave or toast the patty before eating), slice of natural cheese (such as provolone or mozzarella), whole grain bun (such as Nature’s Own White Wheat) and fruit
  • Salad with beans (such as edamame, black soy beans – which are easier to digest than many other beans, kidney beans or any other canned low sodium & low sugar beans), feta cheese, lots of other veggies (like tomatoes and mushrooms) and a small whole grain roll (such as Alexia’s)

Dinner

  • Veggie burger or grilled fish sandwich on a whole grain bun/toast/pita/english muffin topped with veggies, a slice of natural cheese and a side salad with vinaigrette
  • Whole grain rice or quinoa mixed with cannellini beans, feta cheese, onions and diced tomatoes (canned or fresh).  This can be served hot or cold.  Serve with a side salad topped with a small handful of chopped walnuts
  • Stir fry with cubed super firm tofu and sauteed vegetables.  Serve over whole grain couscous and top with parmesan.  Serve with a side salad
  • Veggie pita, dressing made with high-protein greek yogurt, slice of swiss cheese (a low sodium version such as Alpine Lace is preferrable), fruit and cottage cheese
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