Getting enough protein during meal time is really no biggie, so relax if you’ve decided to push meat aside and make way for plant-based options—good choice! Eliminating meat also reduces the risk of a number of health issues but it doesn’t reduce your ability to enjoy a meal. In fact, making meals delicious without meat is really so simple and satisfying. Protein concerns, however, are still one of the main reasons that people include meat on their plates. Some common myths are that plants can’t supply enough protein or the right types, but that’s really not true. It’s not shameful to say you enjoy eating meat, but know that it isn’t required by the human body to supply enough protein. In fact, you can actually overdose on animal protein, while plants supply beneficial amino acids the body uses without causing a harmful imbalance to occur.
How Much Protein Do We Need at Meals?
One issue many people struggle with is how much protein is enough. Generally speaking, everyone has different needs when it comes to protein content at meal time. Depending on your weight, athletic practice, age, hormones, and lifestyle factors, you may need more than other people need. However, most meals shouldn’t contain less than 10 grams of protein per meal. Why? Because this will provide balance to blood sugar levels, while also supplying amino acids to the neurotransmitters that help your nervous system function. Protein is also helpful for the digestive process, even in small amounts. It can give you sustained energy through the day by boosting metabolism. Not enough will leave you hungry shortly after a meal (as will eating too much sugar or junk food) while eating too much might actually cause digestive upset or can actually cause too much insulin in the body. Ten grams, however, is a safe number that everyone can achieve without much thought. Then, if you’d like to add more (such as 15-20 grams per meal if you’re active), you can certainly do so. You should also aim to include 5-10 grams with each snack you eat to be sure you get enough and for the same nutritional benefits.
Here’s how to get 10 grams of protein without any hassle at each and every meal!
Choose one of these or combine more of them to achieve even more protein per meal:
1. Eat 2 Cups of Spinach
This option alone will give you 10 grams of protein. While greens are not a complete source of protein, spinach is a unique source. It’s filled with muscle-boosting and satiating properties including iron, B vitamins, chlorophyll, magnesium, fiber, and it is very filling. You can enjoy it in any entree, a smoothie, make a salad or use it in place of other greens however you like.
2. Eat 1/3 Cup Legumes
Lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes are excellent sources of protein. Each have different amounts, but 1/3 cup serving will give you 10 or more grams. Legumes are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals too, such as iron, magnesium, and potassium.
3. Pair Seeds With Greens
Seeds like pumpkin, sesame (or tahini), hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, and other seeds (chia, flax, etc.) all contain protein, as do all leafy greens. Pairing the two together at a meal will increase the protein further and aid in digestion. Depending on the seed you use, amounts will differ, however if you use at least 2 tbsp. seeds and 2 cups of greens, you’ll achieve 10 grams quite easily.
4. Eat 1/3 Cup Beans
Like legumes, beans are packed with protein. A 1/3 cup serving will give you at least 10 grams, with some options like black bean and kidney containing slightly more.
5. Eat Overnight Oats for Breakfast
Making overnight oats with oats, chia seeds or tahini, and simple almond milk for breakfast can easily help you reach 10 grams. Oats contain 7 grams per 1/3 cup while chia seeds contain 3 grams per 2 tablespoons. Tahini contains 8 grams per two tablespoons, which alone would help you reach your goal. You can add more protein by using almonds, hemp seeds, or hemp milk in place of almond milk as well.
6. Make a Protein Smoothie (or Smoothie Bowl) With Hemp Protein Powder or Hemp Seeds
Hemp protein powder and hemp seeds are packed with 13-16 grams of protein per serving (depending on the brand and type you use). Use this as your protein source in the morning and you’ll easily go over the 10 gram mark. See our smoothie recipes and give this a try!
7. Use Almond Butter and Greens in a Smoothie
Almond butter contains 7 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons, so add it to a green smoothie that includes at least 2 cups of greens (kale and spinach are best) for a nice protein boost, not to mention a delicious flavor! Ingredients that pair well with this combo include blueberries, almond milk, sliced banana or frozen berries, and some chia seeds for texture and thickness (and more protein!).
8. Eat a Variety of Veggies
Vegetables all contain protein, even if in small amounts. The more you eat of them per meal, the more you can add protein to your diet easily. Mushrooms have 3 grams per 1/2 cup, sweet potatoes have 4 grams per potato, broccoli has 4 grams per cup, and green beans contain 4 grams per 1/2 cup just as examples. Including a variety of veggies at each meal won’t only boost your protein content, but they also help satiate the body, energize the body, and compliment other sources of protein like grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
9. Try Tofu or Tempeh
Not everyone likes soy or believes it’s right to eat as the main source of meatless protein, but you should consider trying it if you’re on the fence. Many people love tempeh and tofu because they’re whole food sources of soy, while others may stick to edamame (green soybeans) or other types of beans instead. Tofu and tempeh are complete sources of protein and many people enjoy them in place of meat; they also add 10-15 grams per 1/2 cup at meal time, another winning factor for people concerned about protein needs.
10. Pair Quinoa With Nutritional Yeast
These two foods are rich in complete proteins, which is a great way to get enough protein and a tasty option at that! Quinoa contains 6 grams per 1/3 cup and nutritional yeast contains 8 grams per two tablespoons. Sprinkle at least 1 tablespoon onto some quinoa for 10 grams of protein, B vitamins, magnesium, and an incredible meal that keeps you going strong.
There are of course many, many options for adding more protein to your day and at every meal. To help get you started, see our 25 sources of vegan protein, our Plant-Based Protein Guide, and check out our protein-rich recipes.
What’s your favorite way to add protein to your meals and snacks?
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Quinoa Fruit Salad