It’s time to move beyond meat and three-veg.  Exploring new protein sources opens you up to a whole world of interesting, satisfying meals that will shake up the way you look at dinner and make healthy eating exciting and fun. Dare to be different… you’ll be cooking up a storm before you know it.

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1. Edamame

At eleven grams per half cup serving (shelled – a little more than a cup in the pod), edamame is a protein powerhouse.  Frozen and in the pod it makes a great, fun-to-eat post-work snack or salty TV time nosh.  Steam it, dip liberally in tamari, and suck the seeds right out of the pod.

2. Garbanzo beans

These protein packed legumes are also called chickpeas, but garbanzo is just far more fun to say.  Half a cup of these delicious beans contains more than 7 grams of protein.  With so many tasty ways to enjoy these versatile beauties, you’ll find inserting at least that much into your meals easy.  Try whirring them up with some lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and olive oil for some homemade hummus.  Paired with fresh veggies and pita chips it makes a great meal in its own right.  Go crazy and do your own flavor experiments – roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, spicy chilies, fresh herbs… the possibilities are endless.  Chickpeas are also addictively good roasted, like crispy, protein-packed popcorn that you can’t stop eating.

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3. Quinoa

One cup of this adaptable grain provides 8 grams of protein.  Use it anywhere you would serve rice – it’s great paired with curries or as a base for hearty salads.  It also makes a surprisingly enjoyable breakfast that will keep you satisfied all morning.  Just reheat pre-cooked quinoa in a sauce pan with a liberal amount of non-dairy milk, a little sweetener (brown sugar and maple syrup are both great) and whatever add-ins make you smile – dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon, and fresh berries are all delicious places to start.

4. Seitan

Despite its slightly evil sounding pronunciation, the only thing malicious about this favorite vegetarian protein is how devilishly delicious it is.  Made from vital wheat gluten, seitan is so meaty some vegetarians even find it off-putting.  At 20 grams per three ounce serving, its protein content is comparable to lean meat, but, since it’s plant-based, contains heart-healthier fats and no cholesterol.   It’s excellent sliced up and prepared as fajitas or shredded, mixed with barbecue sauce and layered on buns for delicious pulled-pork-esque sandwiches.  Try it in stews, stir-fries, as Buffalo wings… get inventive!

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5. Green peas

Your mom was right to tell you to eat your peas!  They’re a surprisingly rich source of protein, with almost 8 grams per cup. That doesn’t mean you have to watch them roll around your plate like they did in your childhood.  There are lots of innovative, tasty ways to eat your peas.  Puree them into pesto, hummus, or guacamole, throw them into stir-fries, or stir them into your risotto.  They’re also a super excuse for a yummy childhood throwback – throw them into some mac and cheese and suddenly the health quotient on this favorite goes way up!

 

Photo Credit: net_efektJoel KramerJanet Hudson and manda_wong