Protein-rich foods can be time-consuming to prepare, but you need it for almost every bodily function, including building and maintaining healthy tissues as the years go by.
But when it comes to eating nutritiously, having a plan can go a long way. If you're looking for ways to get more protein into your daily routine, we consulted nutrition experts for their top tips.
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Why Eat More Protein?
Protein has many benefits, and not eating enough of it could harm your health. Known as the "building blocks" of the body, proteins play an important role in tissue development, appetite regulation and maintaining and improving muscle mass.
For these reasons (and more), it's also touted as one of the most important nutrients for healthy aging. According to Piedmont Healthcare, eating enough protein will also help you:
- Recover after exercise and/or injury
- Experience less age-related muscle loss
- Maintain a healthy weight
Now that you know the why, let's dive into how to eat more protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner from nutrition experts themselves.
15 Ways to Get More Protein
1. Cook Batches of Protein-Rich Foods
Batch cooking is a style of meal prep that allows you to make large quantities of foods that you can repurpose throughout the week.
"Make the healthy choice by prepping protein choices in advance," says Holly Larson, RD. Batch-cooking proteins, such as chicken, fish or beans, makes it a lot easier to make dinner when the time comes because the hardest part is already done.
Having proteins ready will make it easier to add them to any meal. "For each meal, aim for at least one serving for every meal, which should fill about 1/4 of your plate," says Melissa Mitri, RD.
"For breakfast, you can add hard-boiled eggs or Greek yogurt on the side, switch to ultra-filtered high-protein milk, or add protein powder to your oatmeal or a smoothie. For lunch and dinner, keep pre-made chicken, tuna salad, tofu, roasted chickpeas and seeds to add to meals and salads. If making soup, use bone broth instead of regular broth for an added protein boost," Mitri says.
2. Buy a Rotisserie Chicken
Grocery stores and supermarkets often sell rotisserie chickens that are already cooked and ready to add to your meals. Rotisserie chicken is easily repurposed into chicken salads, soups and stir-fries, and they seriously cut down on meal prep time.
"Having a rotisserie chicken on hand is the easiest way to get protein in at breakfast, lunch and dinner," says Kelsey Sackmann, RD. "Toss shredded chicken into a veggie omelet for a filling breakfast, or use leg quarters for a quick sheet-pan dinner or add chicken to salads, soups, and pasta recipes for added protein."
3. Invest in a Blender
A blender can quickly make protein smoothies, shakes and soups that make it easy to eat more protein. The best blenders on the market now are versatile and can create hot or cold meals; some can even make hot soup in less than 10 minutes!
Use nut butter, seeds and protein powder for shakes and smoothies, and incorporate beans and legumes into your soups.
Check out some of the best blenders you can buy.
4. Include Beans
Beans are a great way to add protein without a ton of meal prep. If you buy them frozen or canned, you can easily turn them into a balanced meal. With 7 to 8 grams of protein per serving (plus a hefty dose of fiber), most beans are a good source of plant-based nutrients.
"Always have plant-based proteins on hand like edamame, beans and chickpeas on hand," says Patricia Kolesa, RDN. "These can be added to salads, bowls and pasta dishes. Bonus points if you use protein pastas made with chickpeas or beans!"
"My favorite way to eat more protein is to add dry roasted edamame to soups, salads or wraps — they add a nice, salty crunch," says Megan Warnke, RDN. "Just 1/3 cup adds in 14 grams of protein."
5. Sip on Bone Broth
"Bone broth is a protein-rich option to use in soups and to prepare grains such as cous cous and noodles," says Emily Schiller, RDN. "A 1-cup serving provides as much as 10 grams of high-quality protein (depending on the brand). It's a shelf-stable and affordable protein pantry staple with tons of health benefits."
6. Sprinkle Some Seeds
Seeds are an easy way to add protein to your meals without having to cook. Add them to oatmeal, yogurt and smoothies, or sprinkle them on top of salad or toast for a dose of plant-based nutrition.
"Hemp seeds are versatile, ready to eat and can be sprinkled onto salads or side dishes," says Justine Chan, RD. "Eating 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds will give you 10 grams of protein, and it's one of the few plant sources that is a complete protein."
7. Choose High-Protein Milk
Mandy Tyler, RD says finding the right milk can increase your protein intake throughout the day. "The simple switch to using high-protein milk is an easy way to boost the protein content of your meals. Ultra-filtered milk from brands like Fairlife ($4.18, Walmart) are filtered to remove the lactose and concentrate both the protein and calcium content of the beverage.
To provide a comparison, a cup of ultra-filtered milk has ~13 grams of protein, while a cup of regular cow's milk has 8 grams of protein. Some brands of plant-based milks are also starting to offer higher protein varieties. An easy swap to increase the protein in your smoothies, breakfast cereal, and as a beverage with meals," Tyler states.
8. Emphasize Breakfast
Starting your day with a large serving of protein may be a good way to get a head start. Eating a high-protein breakfast has been shown to improve blood sugar levels and regulate appetite over the course of the day, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
"I find breakfast to be the easiest meal to add protein to because there are many easy additions," says Shannon A. Garcia, RD. "If enjoying oatmeal, try adding in a tablespoon of nut butter, hemp hearts or a scoop of a high-quality brand of collagen. The same additions could easily be tossed in a smoothie or yogurt bowl."
9. Pack in the Plants
"If you're having a hard time finding protein sources on a plant-based diet, try adding hemp seeds, nuts or nut butter to your overnight oats, yogurt parfaits or chia seed puddings," says Sara Kashlan, RDN.
"For breakfast, you could add a plant-based egg substitute like Just Egg or go for an open-faced sandwich with British-inspired beans on toast. Lunch and dinner could include roasted chickpeas, curried lentils, barbecued tofu, teriyaki tempeh or vegan meat alternatives like seitan, sausages and meatballs."
Whether you are a meat eater or plant-based, there are plenty of protein sources to choose from.
10. Swap Your Pasta Products
With the importance of this macronutrient in mind, more and more brands are making pasta products made with high-protein ingredients like chickpeas, lentils or quinoa.
Check out some of our favorite high-protein pasta brands that make eating more protein simple.
11. Look for Protein-Enriched Products
Nowadays, there are so many high-protein alternatives to common foods, especially breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles and some breads.
"There are some great products that take traditionally low-protein, high carb favorites and boost their protein," says Kim Arnold, RDN. "I love Kodiak's frozen Power Waffles or their PowerCakes Flapjack and Waffle Mix Top your waffle with cashew, almond or peanut butter and sliced fruit for a healthy morning dose of protein," Arnold says.
12. Prep Egg Muffins
If you're looking for a convenient, high-protein breakfast that's already done for you, look no further than these egg muffins, which you can prepare ahead of time for an easy grab-and-go serving of protein.
Even better, egg muffins can be frozen and kept for up to three months, so you can pull them out whenever you need them!
"An easy tip to up the protein at breakfast is to try egg muffins. Make them with eggs, cheese and turkey bacon to give them extra protein," says Caroline Green, RDN.
13. Get Creative With Cottage Cheese
With 12 grams amount of protein per 1/2-cup serving, cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein to add to your meals, and it's incredibly versatile. Add it to smoothie recipes, omelets or protein batter for a healthy breakfast option.
Cottage cheese also works great as a snack or addition to a meal if you're looking for a portable protein to pack in your lunch bag.
Michelle Rauch, RD, shares a hack for adding protein to breakfast: "Add a dollop of cottage cheese to your scrambled eggs as they cook — it gives the scrambled eggs a creamy texture and is more satisfying!"
14. Go for Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is higher in protein than other, regularly-strained yogurt, and it also offers gut health benefits thanks to the probiotic bacteria.
It makes a great replacement for sour cream because Greek yogurt and sour cream taste almost identical. But while sour cream is mostly fat with a little bit of protein, Greek yogurt is mostly protein with a little bit of fat (depending on the variety you buy).
Use Greek yogurt to thicken your soups and add a creamy element without extra calories, add a dollop on top of a baked potato or swap it in as a replacement for cream.
"Greek yogurt is one of my go-to's for more protein due to its versatility and protein quality/quantity," says Alissa Palladino, RD. "I love using it instead of sour cream to make savory dips or top baked potatoes or tacos, and I swap it for mayo when I make tuna, egg or chicken salad," Palladino says.
Choosing plain instead of flavored versions gives you more options and less added sugar. "At breakfast, eat Greek yogurt in a parfait with berries and nuts, in overnight oats, blended it into a smoothie with frozen fruit or mix it with whole grain cereal," Paladino says.
15. Consider Protein Powder
Protein powder is a convenient way to get a large serving of protein anywhere, anytime. You can use protein powder eventually by mixing it with milk or water, or you could add it to things that you're already eating like oatmeal, smoothies and homemade protein energy balls.
"Making sure I have protein with each meal is something I prioritize in order to balance my blood sugar levels," says Toby Smithson, RD. "Eating protein with carbohydrate-rich foods is one key to blood sugar management."
"Especially when I'm traveling, I will carry whey protein powder so I have a grab-and-go way to add protein to my breakfast oatmeal. I can prepare this in a hotel room with hot water from the coffee maker."