Amy and her husband, Zach, eat fish once or twice a week and joined a community-supported agriculture group, or CSA. But while the vegetarian idea appeals, Amy worries about getting enough protein. "I try to make our meals center around lean protein, like chicken or turkey," she says. She and Zach often double down on dinner and pack it as the next day's lunch, so she fears a lack of protein at dinner and lunch will not get them through the day. Another reason Amy is motivated to try vegetarian meals: A recent checkup indicated that Zach's cholesterol is a little high, so she's thinking cutting back on meat might be a good idea.
The protein concern is a hangover from earlier ideas about vegetarianism. Amy and Zach can easily meet their daily protein needs. Protein recommendations are pretty low—50g per day for women, 63g for men—so it's difficult to be deficient. Eating less meat may help Amy lower her cholesterol, too, if she's careful to limit nonmeat sources of saturated fat (such as some dairy and coconut milk).
- Go for whole grains. Brown rice, quinoa, barley, and other whole grains deliver a good helping of protein with a lot less fat than meat. One cup of cooked quinoa has more than 8g of protein and less than 4g of fat; a 6-ounce rib-eye has 63g of protein but a whopping 34g of fat (more than a third is unhealthy saturated fat).
- Give tofu a chance. Tofu can be a daunting ingredient to the novice vegetarian chef, but once you've tried a few recipes, you'll be thinking up your own dishes in no time. You can grill, sauté, roast, or bake tofu, just as you would any piece of meat.
- Experiment with beans, nuts, and soy foods. Lentils make a great base for salads, soups, and stews, and 1 cup has nearly 18g of protein. Stir rinsed and drained canned beans into pasta dishes for a protein boost—half a cup has almost 7g of protein.
- Use your CSA vegetables for an easy risotto. Don't be intimidated by the classic rice dish. Risottos are a great way to incorporate vegetables into a meal. Any leftovers make great risotto cakes for tomorrow's lunch.
- Add oomph to dips. Enjoy fresh veggies dunked into protein-rich yogurt sauces and dips, like our Tzatziki or Cucumber Raita. Or try bean dips, like our Artichoke, Spinach, and White Bean Dip.
- Partner fruits and vegetables with protein. Pair apples with nut butters—2 tablespoons of almond butter contain 7g of protein. Dip carrot or bell pepper strips in hummus—2 tablespoons have 3g of protein.
- Dish out some dairy. A cup of low-fat cottage cheese has 28g of protein; low-fat Greek yogurt has nearly 23g in 1 cup.