Quick & Easy Meatless Options that Pack a Protein Punch

While I don’t label myself as vegetarian or vegan, I have become much more conscious about the type of meat and animal products I consume in the last year since reading books like Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. If the animal came from a factory farm, I will likely pass on eating it. I’d like to skip the side of antibiotics and hormones, thank you very much. While I can definitely go on a tear about eating a lower quantity and higher quality of animal products, I’ll save that for another post. The most common question people ask if you pass on meat is “Where do you get your protein?” While consuming adequate protein is important, especially if you are trying to gain muscle, I think there is an overemphasis on consuming animal protein in our society. As long as you are eating a varied diet with some protein at every meal, be it animal or plant-based, you should be fine.

Since I most often prepare meatless meals for myself, I want to share a few of my favorite protein sources when I either don’t want to spend the money on quality meat, or just don’t have time to prepare an elaborate meal.

  1. Lentils. With 18 grams of protein per cup, lentils are one of the richest sources of plant-based protein. I like to eat a mixture of lentils, beans, and sunflower seeds that I flavor with cumin, oregano, freshly ground black pepper, apple cider vinegar, and a splash of Tapatio hot sauce. I pair that with a veggie stir fry and it makes for an incredibly satisfying meal.
  2. Bean and rice. Together, beans and rice provide a complete source of protein, about 7 grams per cup. I’m a huge fan of Mexican food, and making myself a meatless burrito bowl is quick and delicious! I’ll layer brown rice, black beans, sauteed onions and bell peppers, cilantro, salsa, avocado, and some cheese or nutritional yeast.
  3. Eggs. Since I often get home late in the evenings after teaching a fitness class, simple meals are my bread and butter. There’s no easier source of complete protein to prepare than eggs! I try to buy cage-free, pasture-raised, organic eggs when I can, and if you're confused about which to buy, this article helped me. Eggs contain about 7 grams of protein each, and I usually eat two at a meal. My favorite style is eggs fried in coconut oil and flavored with fresh dill, sea salt, ground black pepper, and chili pepper flakes.
  4. Nuts and seeds. I snack on almonds and cashews most days, and I’ll often add flaxseeds to my breakfast in the morning--whether it’s toast with avocado, oatmeal, or Greek yogurt. In addition to providing a protein punch, nuts and seeds contain fats that are essential for optimal health. I also consume copious amounts of peanut and almond butter on a daily basis (I substitute peanut butter for ice cream, doesn’t everyone?)… Keep in mind this might not work for everyone, especially if you're trying to lose weight!
  5. Healthy grains. I’m a huge bread lover, and my favorite brand is Ezekiel bread, which happens to pack a good protein punch at 4 grams of protein per slice. Ezekiel bread is made of sprouted grains, which are said to be easier to digest and help you absorb more vitamins and minerals. I also consume lots of oats, which have about 13 grams of protein per ½ cup. Quinoa is another great source of protein, about 12 grams per ½ cup (uncooked). My body needs lots of carbohydrates since I work out so frequently, but for someone who is more sedentary, a lower intake of carbohydrates may be appropriate.

There you have it, 5 great sources of protein! What is your favorite source of meatless protein? Any favorite recipes to share? Let me know in the comments section.