Are plant-based proteins on your mind? For vegetarians and vegans – as well as curious carnivores – invigorate the protein in your meal prep with our vegetable-kingdom suggestions below.
The main dilemma with plant-based proteins is that many of them aren't complete proteins. (In other words, they don't contain all nine of the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own necessary to creating protein.) Meat and eggs, for instance, are complete proteins, but beans and nuts aren't.
Complete proteins are crucial, so consuming a wide variety of plant-based proteins is a good way to obtain the necessary variety in amino acid profiles that leads to obtaining all the essential amino acids without eating meat. From vegetables to beans to nuts, many people – vegetarian, vegan, or not – already naturally consume a wide variety of plant-based proteins, provided they're maintaining a nutritious, healthy diet.
Most people know about tofu, but what about its soy cousin tempeh? Similarly, nuts are commonly cited as a source of protein for herbivores, but what about seeds? We're calling out chia seeds, but there's a whole world of plant-based proteins out there. Check out these and two more below.
1 cup = 31 grams of protein
For those who find the texture of tofu a bit odd, tempeh offers complete plant-based proteins with a bit more of a bite – and double the protein. Whole soybeans undergo fermentation to become the chewy, earthy, almost nutty cake-like slabs known as tempeh, a delicious protein alternative that anyone can enjoy.
Season with your favorite spices and herbs; let it marinate overnight to really soak in the flavors.
Uses: In salads, stir-frys, and sauces; as taco fillings; shaped into classic meat staples: burgers, hot dogs, etc.
2 tablespoons = 4 grams of protein
Yes, these are the same chia seeds that grew into office pets in the '80s and '90s. Chia seeds in fact have ancient origins, with many uses throughout the centuries. In our current age, we've discovered that chia seeds are a "secret weapon" of plant-based proteins. The soluble fiber content of the seeds gives them superpower-like water absorption qualities; in other words, they're perfect natural thickeners while also providing healthy fats in addition to fiber and protein. They don't have much of a taste, which makes them an easy addition to many recipes, but be forewarned of the gel-like texture, which can be off-putting to some.
Uses: Oatmeal, especially overnight oatmeal; with milk to make chia seed pudding; in smoothies; in hummus, guacamole, other spreads; in salads and soups.
2 tablespoons = 8 grams of protein
Spirulina sounds like the name of one of Jupiter's moons, but it's actually an edible blue-green algae rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals – which is arguably just as cool. Spirulina is singular among plant-based proteins in that it's largely protein by dry weight, around 70%. It also turns whatever it's mixed into green and gives the background a slightly seaweedy flavor – not for everyone, but easy to overwhelm.
The other taste components are subtly sweet, with hints of nuttiness, vanilla, and chocolate, which makes spirulina a good way to add protein to a dessert. Since it's dry, spirulina is also a great way to add protein to blended beverages.
Uses: In smoothies and juices; in pudding and other desserts; baked into bars; mixed directly into water.
1/3 cup serving = 21 grams of protein
Seitan is a common base for meat alternative products in the health food industry, but since it's made of textured wheat protein, it's off the table for those who are gluten-free. (If that's you, check out gluten-free blogger Chandice Probst's guide to Gluten-Free Meal Prep instead.) Seitan's not a complete protein, but you can create a full profile by cooking it with soy sauce to add lysine, the amino acid that's not provided. The end result is chewy, meat-like, and frequently cited as preferred by those who don't care for the texture of tofu.
Uses: In stir-frys, soups, and salads; as taco fillings; with breakfast; in Mediterranean food; anywhere tofu is used.
Whether you're a vegetarian seeking a balanced diet or a clean eater intrigued by unique ways to ingest protein, these plant-based proteins are a great place to start. Find even more plant-based nutritional inspiration in 6 Pack ambassador Darlene Adamusik's guide to Vegan Meal Prep, as well as our primer on how to eat buckwheat.
Find the perfect meal management bag to store your healthy plant-based meal prep among our many varieties: backpacks, totes, sports duffle bags, briefcases and messenger bags, with several kickass non-meal prep styles – starting with the Ace Athletic Backpack – to come!