11 Meat-Free Meals That Still Pack Plenty Of Protein

The buzz around plant-based eating is growing faster than the weeds in our backyards this summer—but you’re not alone if you’re not quite sure what it all means. Allow me to clarify: Plant-based eating doesn’t mean placing your 16-ounce veal chop on a bed of greens, nor does it mean that you have to become a strict vegan or vegetarian. This style of eating basically means that meat (and other animal products) takes a step to the side while letting plants play the starring role on your dinner table.

A diet rich in vegetables and other produce has been shown to reduce risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And, besides keeping people healthy, plant-based eating can also benefit our planet by decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production practices, according to research published in Nature.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I possibly get enough protein in a meal without meat? It can be done! Combine a couple of plant-based protein sources into your meal and you can rack up more protein than you think. And considering the Institute of Medicine recommends a baseline of 56 grams of protein per day for men and 46 grams for women, you may not need to eat quite as much as you think. Of course, personal protein needs may vary depending on your goals, height, weight, and activity level, but many of us tend to go overboard on animal protein, eating steaks and burgers the size of our heads on the reg.

That said, a meal without meat doesn’t have to leave you lacking the macronutrient you need to build muscle and keep your body strong. These veggie-focused recipes pack between eight and 26 (yes, really!) grams of protein—and are guaranteed to win you over to the plant-based team.

1. Avocado Mini Muffins

My avocado mini egg muffins are a great portable way to sneak extra protein and veggies into your day. The eggs, egg whites, and feta cheese are our main protein contributors here, providing about eight grams of protein per two mini muffins.

These muffins are bursting with color from the tomatoes and spinach in the recipe—both of which are good sources of vitamin C! And, last but not least, heart-healthy avocado supplies a creamy texture while its fiber helps you feel full longer. Make my recipe your own by adding anything you have sitting in your fridge—like peppers, mushrooms or beets.

2. Sunflower Caesar Salad

Throw together this quick but satisfying salad from Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Superfood Swap, for a hefty dose of plant-based protein. It packs more than 15 grams of protein (from the chickpeas, sunflower seed butter, and sprouted bread) and about as much fiber.

First, toss as much romaine lettuce as you’d like with grape tomatoes, sliced red onion, and a half-cup of canned chickpeas. Then, toast two slices of sprouted whole-grain bread and cut them into croutons. Make your own dressing by whisking together two tablespoons of water, a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, half a clove of minced garlic, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

photo: Mandy Enright

3. Freekeh Sunflower Burger

This one’s for all you burger lovers out there! This freekeh sunflower burger combines protein from several seeds (sunflower, pepita, chia, and hemp) and the freekeh (a whole grain also known as ‘farik’) to provide 16 grams of protein per patty. You can boost protein further by topping your burger with soy cheese (three grams per slice) or regular cheese (six grams per slice). Serve with lettuce and tomato on a whole grain bun. Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., loves that this burger has a dense texture—much like your regular ‘ole meaty burger.

photo: Brittany Sparks

4. Vegetarian Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup

This veggie-lovers comfort food is budget friendly and loaded with nutrients. Thanks to the split peas and lentils, just a half-cup bowl of this soup provides around 15 grams of protein. The lentils and split peas also offer fiber, folate, iron, zinc, and potassium, according to Brittany Sparks, R.D.N., C.S.R. This soup is delish hot or cold, and makes for a great main meal or vegetable-packed side.

photo: Sharon Palmer

5. Savory Steel-Cut Oats With Spinach, Mushrooms, And Tofu

The thought of oats combined with spinach, mushrooms, and tofu may feel a little strange, but hear us out. This vegan, gluten-free dish will make you rethink your favorite breakfast staple. Herbs and spices like black pepper, salt, and basil, along with aromatic garlic and tasty sun-dried tomatoes, give this bowl all of the flavor it needs. In a serving, you’ll load up on a whopping 26 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber, plus iron and folic acid (from the spinach), says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. Steel-cut oats have a chewy texture and mild flavor, so you can swap them in for other whole grains, like brown rice, whenever you feel like mixing it up.

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

photo: Whitney English

6. Vegan “Egg” Salad Sandwich

This breakfast-inspired sandwich is easy to whip up and makes for the perfect take-to-work meal. Mashed tofu combines with nutritional yeast, avocado oil, and a few spices (paprika, turmeric, garlic powder, salt, and pepper) to form an animal-free scramble that’ll satisfy even the biggest egg lover. The scramble packs 15 grams of protein and comes together in just five minutes, says Whitney English, M.S., R.D.N., C.P.T. Nosh on it as is, on top of a bed of greens, or between two slices of sprouted whole-grain bread.

photo: Jennifer Hunt

7. Quinoa Edamame Salad With Citrus Vinaigrette

This fresh and flavorful meal is a great lunch or light dinner option. The salad, from Jennifer Hunt, R.D.N., L.D., combines quinoa, edamame, and a touch of feta for a meal that supplies 20 grams of protein per serving. The DIY citrus vinaigrette uses flavors like orange juice, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and honey, for a bright burst of goodness. It’s a great balance of complex carbs for energy, plant protein to keep you satisfied, and fat to help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, Hunt says.

photo: Judy Barbe

8. Walnut Mushroom Lasagna Rolls

Sometimes the soul just needs pasta. And who are we to deny the soul? This lasagna recipe from Judy Barbe, R.D., author of Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being, still offers about 20 grams of protein per serving, without a touch of meat. Here, the protein comes from walnuts, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and egg. Barbe loves ricotta cheese because it’s rich in calcium and has a mild flavor that plays well with other ingredients. Meanwhile, walnuts provide healthy fats and fiber, while mushrooms provide rich, savory flavor and valuable vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D.

9. Lemony Mint Quinoa

A cold quinoa salad is a great make-ahead meal to stash in the fridge and spoon out throughout the week. Quinoa, which is one of very few complete plant proteins, is also high in fiber and provides iron and calcium—helping this summery-tasting salad hit about eight grams of protein and eight grams of fiber per cup, says Cheryl Harris, M.P.H., R.D. Harris likes to add halved grape tomatoes to her salad, but you can pump up the veggie power with any other additions, like cucumbers or peppers. Add a half-cup of red beans or edamame to boost the protein count to 15 grams.

photo: Julie Harrington

10. Chickpea Walnut Sandwich

Give your usual tuna or chicken salad a plant-based makeover with this recipe from culinary nutritionist consultant Julie Harrington, R.D. Because they have a firm texture, chickpeas are the perfect pulse for a veggie-based salad. You’ll combine plain Greek yogurt, chickpeas, walnuts, and a few extra flavors to create a sandwich-ready salad complete with plenty of crunch. Layer your salad between two pieces of sprouted whole-grain bread with some lettuce, tomato, and onion, and you’ve got an all-star sammie that provides almost 20 grams of protein.

11. Mix-And-Match Power Bowl

Looking for an easy, throw-together dish? A bowl full of veggies, whole grains, and legumes or pulses—with a dollop of flavorful dressing—is a quick formula for a balanced meal. Try combining a cup of greens, a half-cup of cooked farro, a half-cup of cooked lentils, and a half-cup of roasted veggies. Top your mixture with a drizzle of sriracha, two tablespoons of garlic hummus, and a sprinkle of hemp seeds. Kelly Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. likes this meal because it’s filled with a medley of flavor and textures and provides more than 20 grams of protein, plus plenty of fiber and healthy fats to keep you feeling satisfied for hours.

Related: Find a plant-based protein supplement to fuel your body.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

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