10 Vegetarian Ways to Eat Your Recommended Daily Protein

10 Vegetarian Ways to Eat Your Recommended Daily Protein

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Sheela Prakash
Apr 25, 2017
(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

When I asked my coworkers what they know about protein, the first thing Lauren (a vegetarian) said was, "Everyone tells me that it's impossible to get enough of it without meat."

That's quite a myth, actually. Meat and fish are certainly good sources of protein, but if you're abstaining from them for any reason you can still easily eat your daily recommended servings of protein.


How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day should be eating about 50 grams of protein a day.

This number is a very rough average — the USDA states that women need a little less (46 grams) and men need a little more (56 grams), and it goes up or down depending on the calories you consume in a day.

Your level of activity, age, and a number of other factors, like pregnancy or illness, can also shift that number up or down, but 50 grams is a good average to discuss during this conversation.


The average 2,000 calorie diet = 50 grams of protein


How Much Is 50 Grams?

To put it in perspective, one cup of whole-milk Greek yogurt contains 20 grams of protein. Eat that for breakfast and you're already almost halfway to your daily requirement.

So the reality is, if you're eating a well-balanced diet, you're probably getting your fill of protein, and perhaps eating a good amount more than your daily requirement, without even trying.

What's the Best Way to Eat Protein as a Vegetarian?

Foods like dairy, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains all contain enough protein in them to get you to that number without breaking a sweat.

It's important to note that many vegetarian protein sources, with the exception of dairy, eggs, soy, and quinoa, are incomplete proteins. That means that they contain only some of the nine essential amino acids — the compounds that help our bodies build muscle, tissue, and more — that are found in protein. It shouldn't be a major concern if you're eating a well-balanced diet, as you'll end up getting all nine throughout the course of the day anyway.

A Note on Serving Sizes

It's important to note that the recommended serving sizes, jointly determined by the USDA and the FDA, aren't necessarily how we all eat in real time. We all should be eating the amount of food that we personally feel we need to fuel us!

These images below aren't meant to depict a day's worth of calories. We used these recommended serving sizes simply as reference when calculating what a daily serving of protein looks like to keep things consistent, but it's important to take these serving sizes as suggestions and then adjust accordingly based on what you know to be the amount of food that's good for you, your lifestyle, and your energy needs.

10 Vegetarian Ways to Eat Your Daily Protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1 cup rolled oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter swirled in and 1 small banana
Lunch: A salad of 2 cups spinach, 1/2 cup chickpeas, and 1/4 cup feta (5 grams), plus 1 ounce roasted almonds
Dinner: 1 cup spaghetti with 1/2 cup tomato sauce and 2 tablespoons shaved Parmesan

TOTAL = 56 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with 1 slice whole-wheat toast
Lunch: 1 cup lentil salad and 1 string cheese
Dinner: Mixed vegetable and tofu stir-fry (using 3 ounces of tofu) over 1 cup brown rice

TOTAL = 53 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1/2 cup Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup blackberries and 1 ounce roasted almonds
Lunch: Peanut butter (2 tablespoons) and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread
Dinner: 2 cups lentil soup with 1 cup arugula salad and 1 whole-wheat dinner roll

TOTAL = 54 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1 smoothie made with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup of fruit
Lunch: 1/2 whole-wheat pita filled with 2 tablespoons hummus, 1 sliced hard-boiled egg, lettuce, and sliced tomato, plus 1 string cheese
Dinner: A salad of 2 cups spinach, 1/2 cup white beans, 1/2 sun-dried tomatoes, and 1/4 cup feta

TOTAL = 50 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
Lunch: 1 cup cooked quinoa with 1/2 cup chickpeas, plus 1 string cheese
Dinner: 2 eggs cooked in tomato sauce sprinkled with 1/4 cup feta

TOTAL = 52 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1/2 avocado and 1 fried egg
Lunch: 1/2 cup hummus topped with 1/2 cup roasted vegetables and 1/4 cup feta, plus 1 ounce roasted almonds
Dinner: 1 flour tortilla quesadilla filled with 1/2 cup black beans and 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, topped with salsa and sour cream

TOTAL = 51 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1/2 cup Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey and 1 small banana
Lunch: 1 cup chickpea salad and 1 ounce roasted almonds
Dinner: 1 cup penne pasta tossed with 1 cup sautéed spinach and 2 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese

TOTAL = 50 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
Lunch: 1 baked potato filled with 1/2 cup black beans and 2 tablespoons salsa, plus 1 string cheese
Dinner: 1 cup brown rice topped with 2 poached eggs and 1/2 avocado, sliced

TOTAL = 51 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1 cup rolled oatmeal with 1/2 cup blackberries
Lunch: A salad of 2 cups spinach, 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1/4 cup feta, plus 1 ounce roasted almonds
Dinner: 2 cups bean chili topped with 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese and scallions

TOTAL = 52 grams of protein

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Breakfast: 1 smoothie made with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup of fruit, plus 1 ounce roasted almonds
Lunch: 1 egg salad sandwich (using 2 eggs) on whole-wheat bread
Dinner: 1 cup cooked quinoa with 3 ounces baked tofu and 1/2 cup broccoli

TOTAL = 53 grams of protein


Who I Am (and Why I'm Writing to You)

As a food editor who is also a Registered Dietitian, I know the confusion of our fractured landscape of diet information. But if you strip away the study-of-the-day and fad diets, there is solid information we can all learn about basic nutritional building blocks.

We're offering these unsexy yet useful tools to empower cooks to make decisions that suit them with solid, science-driven resources.

This especially applies to protein, the first topic in our new Nutrition 101 series. We want to give you the tools for confident eating and a more wholesome diet — something we can all get behind.

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