People tend to get stuck in a routine with their food, and protein choices are no different.
Whether it’s chicken for dinner or a turkey sandwich for lunch, chances are we can find some ways to add a bit more variety to our diets when it comes to protein.
This is becoming easier than ever thanks to trends such as “meatless Mondays” and the increasing popularity of vegetarianism. However, you do not have to be a full vegetarian to incorporate more plant-based proteins into your meals.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans make a shift to include more variety in their protein choices, and to include more nutrient dense options.
Nutrient dense means that foods are full of good nutrition, as opposed to calorie dense where a food may have a lot of calories but is lacking in nutrients.
To start making some transitions to include more variety in protein choices, it is time to look outside of the box of meat, dairy, eggs or fish.
Legumes are a great and easy way to add in plant-based protein to meals. Whether it be chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, lentils or pinto beans, legumes are also loaded with fiber which supports a healthy digestive system. Soy milk, nuts, nut butters, and whole grains are also great ways to add some more plant-based protein into your diet.
How can I start?
Not sure where to start? Drain and rinse one 15 ounce can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and mix them with one tablespoon of olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven at 350°F for around 45 minutes.
Try adding garlic powder or hot sauce to switch things up. You can do the same thing with edamame beans, but only bake for about 30 minutes for a perfect roasted flavor.
If you are looking for something even easier than that, just drain and rinse a can of any beans and pop them in a container in your fridge. Beans hold really well, and then you will have an easily accessible protein to add to salads or grain dishes ready to go.
Homemade Veggie Burgers
If you are looking for something different and enjoy spending some time in the kitchen, try making your own veggie burgers. While store-bought are very convenient, they can be loaded with fillers such as rice or oats and as a result may be lacking in protein. Making your own can be super simple, and that way you can ensure you are getting a lot of lean and nutrient dense protein with every bite. Start by mashing a can of beans with a potato masher- again making sure to rinse to get rid of some unnecessary sodium. Add in one cup of cooked quinoa and one or two eggs (or flax eggs) to hold everything together. Then, have fun! Load up with finely chopped veggies and spices. Green pepper, carrots and onions are always a great place to start, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different bean or veggie choices. Mix everything together and form into patties, and finally sauté in a small amount of oil in a pan.
Action plan: try swapping meat, eggs or dairy for plant-based protein choices twice a week. It’s a great way to discover new foods and add more plant-based foods into your diet.
This article was written by Kimberly Asman, dietetic intern at the Medical University of South Carolina.