Maybe you've been vegetarian or vegan for years or you've just recently decided to cut down your meat intake for health reasons. Either way, one major concern that often comes with following a plant-based diet is, "how will I get enough protein?"
Vegetarian lunches can be especially tricky when you're looking for something easy and healthy. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to go meatless at this meal while keeping prep simple and still meeting your protein needs.
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Getting enough protein is especially important if you're trying to lose weight, according to a December 2019 meta-analysis published in Advances in Nutrition. The review found that when we're cutting calories to lose weight, we should actually eat more than the Recommended Daily Allowances of this macronutrient (1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight, instead of 0.8 grams) because it helps us maintain lean body mass, which is often lost as part of overall weight loss. Lean body mass (aka muscle) helps maintain our metabolism, which is a definite win when you're trying to shed pounds.
So what are some high-protein, meat-free meals you can enjoy? We've got you covered with these five vegetarian lunch recipes — all with at least 14 grams of protein per serving.
1. Vegan Power Soup
- Protein: 17 grams
- Calories: 301
A warm bowl of soup is sure to satisfy, but this recipe offers a two-for-one when it comes to losing weight: Each serving provides 17 grams of protein thanks in part to the edamame and peas, and eating soup can also help with weight loss (high-protein or not) according to a January 2013 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers found that smooth soups significantly delayed gastric emptying, which increases satiety, compared to a solid meal or even a chunky soup — all made of the same foods, just in different forms.
Get the Vegan Power Soup recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Taco Salad With Skillet Beans
- Protein: 14 grams
- Calories: 396
You'll love this healthy twist on taco salad featuring tortilla chips, avocado, pico de gallo and of course, black beans, which add protein to the dish, bringing the total to 14 grams per serving.
As the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans points out, legumes as a whole (which includes beans) are a unique group because they're highly nutritious and full of plant-based protein. Beans have a nutrient profile similar to meat, offering protein, zinc and iron, but are also similar to vegetables in that they are excellent sources of fiber, folate, potassium and other nutrients. Talk about the best of both worlds!
To up the protein on this dish even more, try adding a cup of cooked quinoa, which packs about 8 grams of protein and 200 calories, per the USDA.
Get the Taco Salad With Skillet Beans recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Cajun Red Beans and Quinoa
- Protein: 14 grams
- Calories: 361
Speaking of quinoa, the 8 grams of protein in a cup is more than you'll find in a whole egg. But it's the grapes added to this dish that give it an element of surprise and a healthy boost.
Unlike most other fruit, grapes are not particularly high in fiber — but what they do have is polyphenols, which have a positive effect on our good gut bacteria, according to a November 2018 review paper published in Food Research International.
Get the Cajun Red Beans and Quinoa recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Black Bean Sandwich Slaw
- Protein: 17 grams
- Calories: 416
This open-faced sandwich promises an explosion of flavors in your mouth from the red cabbage, black beans and cranberries flavored with sweet agave, tart vinegar and whole-grain mustard to help bring it all together.
The 17 grams of protein per serving are mostly due to the black beans, but the deep red color from the cabbage and the cranberries comes from a beneficial plant compounds called anthocyanins, according to a review published July 2017 in Food & Nutrition Research. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that may help protect our vision and brain health.
Get the Black Bean Sandwich Slaw recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Spicy Chili Soup
- Protein: 14 grams
- Calories: 318
Chili is an easy recipe to make meat-free thanks in part to all of the beans and other flavorful vegetables that are included. But this one has a unique benefit for weight loss — it includes more broth, so cup-for-cup, it's lower in calories. But that doesn't mean it has less by way of nutrition. Each two-cup serving has 14 grams of protein and 16 grams of filling fiber, all for less than 320 calories.
Fiber is also important for weight loss because it helps keep us feeling full longer, according to January 2013 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, but it's a nutrient we routinely fall short on. Only about 5 percent of Americans are getting enough on a daily basis, according to a paper published in the January-February 2017 issue of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
Get the Spicy Chili Soup recipe and nutrition info here.
- Advances in Nutrition: "Protein Intake Greater than the RDA Differentially Influences Whole-Body Lean Mass Responses to Purposeful Catabolic and Anabolic Stressors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Soups Increase Satiety Through Delayed Gastric Emptying Yet Increased Glycaemic Response"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns: A Closer Look at Legumes"
- FoodData Central: "Quinoa, Cooked"
- Food Research International: "The Effects of Grape and Red Wine Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota – A Systematic Review"
- Food & Nutrition Research: "Anthocyanidins and Anthocyanins: Colored Pigments as Food, Pharmaceutical Ingredients, and the Potential Health Benefits"
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: "The Effect of Fiber on Satiety and Food Intake: A Systematic Review"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap"