6 High-Protein Plant-Based Meals This Nutritionist Loves
If you're looking for easy, high-protein plant-based meals, look no further than these dietitian-created breakfast, lunch, and dinners. They're delicious, satisfying, and packed with nutrition.
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Plant-based eating is a growing trend
Unsurprisingly, plant-based eating is a growing trend. Among adults, about 50 percent say they purchased a meat or dairy alternative in the past three months, according to Sarah Marion, director of syndicated research at Seattle-based market research firm Murphy Research. These purchases include foods like meat crumbles and veggie burgers, tofu, and plant-based yogurt and cheese.
However, the switch to plant-based foods doesn’t necessarily exclude animal products. While vegan and vegetarians strictly or mostly eliminate animal foods, plant-based eaters still include them. Indeed, two-thirds of those surveyed reported buying fresh meat, and three-quarters said they bought dairy foods in the same time period. (Here are five tasty vegan burgers everyone will love.)
Health benefits of plant-based eating
Concern for personal health is a top reason people say they’re trying more plant-based meals. Indeed, there are benefits to swapping some animal foods for plant-based ones.
A 2020 study of almost 11,000 adults published in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that participants following any dietary pattern that reduces meat consumption had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and total cholesterol and blood pressure levels compared with people who ate meat on a weekly basis. These markers suggest that a lower-meat diet may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Some study participants who reduced their meat consumption did so through a vegetarian diet, but not all gave up meat altogether. Some followed a flexitarian diet, which is a type of vegetarian diet that’s high on plant-based foods but allows for some meat. Others followed a pescatarian diet—think of it as a vegetarian diet with fish.
Shifting toward more plant foods can have other benefits as well. In a 12-week randomized clinical trial published in 2020 in the journal Nutrients, replacing some animal foods with plant foods resulted in higher fiber intakes, healthier fat consumption (with less saturated fats eaten), and improvements in cholesterol levels. (Check out these foods that may lower cholesterol.)
Eating more plant foods, including fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses, can improve your diet’s nutritiousness by providing more fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protective plant compounds.
Types of plant-based proteins
People shop for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy for more than just health reasons. Many also want to try new foods and flavors, and are curious about the trend, according to Murphy Research’s State of Our Health syndicated tracker.
There are numerous plant-based proteins to try. Whole food forms of plant-based proteins include beans, legumes, peas, tofu, and edamame. Nuts and seeds, and to a lesser extent whole grains, provide plant-based protein as well. Of course, there are also meat substitutes in the frozen and fresh aisles of your supermarket.
(Here are allergy-friendly plant-based meat alternatives to try.)
One main difference between most forms of plant protein and animal protein is that plant-based sources may not provide all of the essential amino acids—the building blocks of protein. Your body can’t make essential amino acids, so you need to get them from your diet.
Scientists used to think that the only way to get the full spectrum of amino acids was to combine plant-based protein sources, such as peanut butter with bread or beans with rice. But we now know that this isn’t necessary. It’s more important to get a variety of protein sources throughout the day. This ensures you get all of the amino acids you need.
If you’re looking to swap some of the animal proteins in your diet for plant proteins, here are some delicious plant-based protein ideas to try.
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High-protein plant-based breakfast ideas
Barney Butter Powdered Almond Butter
On its own, oatmeal has just 5 grams of protein per half-cup serving, which is hardly enough to qualify it as a high-protein plant-based meal. My secret protein-boosting ingredient is Barney Butter Powdered Almond Butter ($8). This protein powder is practically tasteless and dissolves easily in oats.
Combine two tablespoons of powdered almond butter with a half cup of old-fashioned oats, one teaspoon of cinnamon, one cup of unsweetened almond milk, one teaspoon of chia seeds, one tablespoon of sunflower seeds, and a chopped apple, and you’ll get a muesli-style breakfast that packs 18 grams of plant-based protein and 12 grams of fiber.
You can also use powdered almond protein in smoothies, soups, and baked goods. (Here are even more healthy breakfast foods to try.)
Beyond Meat Breakfast Sausage with Avocado Toast
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Breakfast Sausage patties ($5) are the perfect swap for ordinary pork sausages, and the switch goes over well with meat eaters since the patties are seasoned just like classic breakfast sausages. Two cooked patties have 11 grams of protein. Serve them alongside a slice of whole-grain toast (gluten-free, if needed) topped with mashed with avocado and tomato slices. Together, this balanced breakfast packs about 18 grams of plant protein.
(Don’t miss these other plant-based breakfast ideas.)
High-protein plant-based lunch ideas
Instead of chicken, egg, or tuna salad, try using chickpeas. There’s nothing easier than opening and rinsing a can of chickpeas, and they’re a great alternative to animal proteins in your traditional salad recipe. Since classic tuna salad and others use mayonnaise, which contains eggs, you could make this completely plant-based by using mashed avocado instead.
Just combine the avocado mash with chickpeas and mustard (or whatever seasonings you prefer), and scoop the salad mixture over leafy greens. Or stuff it into a whole wheat pita along with some veggies. This meal supplies 18 grams of both protein and fiber, so it’s sure to keep you full and focused for hours.
(Try these chickpea recipes and snacks.)
Smoky lentil salad
Buying ready-to-eat steamed lentils is a convenient way to go. Melissa’s Steamed Lentils ($12 for a 3-pack) have just two ingredients: lentils and salt. When I want a super-quick, high-protein plant-based meal, I toss them with some smoked paprika and tahini, a spread made from sesame seeds that adds a creamy texture. Then, I scoop the mixture over salad greens and call it a day. Together, a cup of lentils mixed with a tablespoon of tahini has 22 grams of plant protein, 18 grams of fiber, and a spectrum of other nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium.
(Here are the best recipes for dry lentils.)
High-protein plant-based dinner ideas
One of the easiest ways to dip your toe into plant-based eating is to swap your meat burger for a veggie one. A favorite of mine is Dr. Praeger’s All American Veggie Burger. It’s made with pea protein and other nutritious ingredients, including avocado oil and sweet potato, butternut squash, and carrot purees.
It has 22 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, so burger night is just as filling as if you were eating meat. I eat mine with fixings like grilled onions, ketchup, and mustard over a big salad, but feel free to eat yours with a whole grain bun or English muffin and veggies on the side.
Crispy air fryer tofu
I’m convinced that most meat-eaters would like tofu if they seasoned it well and crisped it in the air fryer. Another key to crisping it is pressing the tofu first. Start with extra-firm tofu and drain any liquids it’s packaged in.
Next, slice the block in half lengthwise and stack paper towels on top and beneath it. Put a heavy skillet on top and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, changing the paper towels once midway through. After it’s pressed, cut the tofu into cubes and toss with a mixture of two tablespoons coconut aminos, one tablespoon each sesame oil and olive oil, and one-half teaspoon garlic powder.
Cook for 10 to 15 minutes in an air fryer set at 375 degrees, stirring once midway through. If you don’t have an air fryer, you could also make this in the oven.
Serve the tofu as I do: over brown rice and roasted veggies. With four ounces of tofu and a half cup of cooked brown rice, the combo provides 18 grams of plant protein and six grams of fiber.
The last word
Swapping some of your meat-based meals for plant-based ones can add much-needed nutrients to your diet and may offer health benefits. When it comes to mealtime, preparation is key.
Next, looking to lose weight? Here are the best free meal planners to try.
- Sarah Marion, PhD, director of syndicated research at Murphy Research in Seattle
- MD Anderson Cancer Center: "5 Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Vegetarian, pescatarian and flexitarian diets: sociodemographic determinants and association with cardiovascular risk factors in a Swiss urban population"
- Nutrients: "Replacing Animal-Based Proteins with Plant-Based Proteins Changes the Composition of a Whole Nordic Diet—A Randomised Clinical Trial in Healthy Finnish Adults"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets"