“Easy High Protein Vegan Meals” was written by Ellen Rippl, RD. Reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND.
Introduction to the vegan diet
Vegan diets have been growing in popularity over the years. A vegan diet is one that excludes all animal products. Below is a simplified comparison between a vegan diet and other types of vegetarian diets.
Overview of vegan vs vegetarian
- Vegan – does not eat any animal products of any kind, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and for most, even honey
- Lacto-vegetarian – avoids meat, fish and eggs; consumes dairy products
- Ovo-vegetarian – avoids meat, fish and dairy; eats eggs
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian – avoids meat and fish; eats eggs and dairy products
- Pescatarian – avoids meat, but consumes fish, eggs, and dairy
- Plant-based – does not necessarily avoid animal products; in general, aims to include a variety of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes
Benefits of a vegan diet
There are many benefits to a vegan diet; some are health-related while others are environmental-related.
Some health benefits include improved heart health, like improved cholesterol and lower blood pressure, as well as weight loss. (1) Another potential benefit is a lowered risk of cancer. (2)
Vegetarian and vegan diets also offer environmental benefits, since animal products require more water, land, and energy to be produced compared to plant-based alternatives. (3) Overall, following a vegan diet helps reduce your carbon footprint.
Nutrients of concern on vegan diet
Let’s look at some different nutrition of concerns on a vegan diet.
For Older Adults
As individuals age, their nutrition needs change. There are many contributing factors. For example, older adults require less energy, and therefore, tend to eat less. (4)
Aging also changes the way we absorb and use various nutrients. Medications can also play a role. Because of this, our nutrition needs change overtime, and some nutrients become more important for older adults to consume. (4)
There are a number of nutrients that are of concern for older adults. These include protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin B6, B12 and E, calcium, magnesium and potassium. (4) Eating a varied vegan diet will help reduce the risk of deficiencies.
If you have been following a vegetarian or vegan diet for a while, you have probably been asked, “but where do you get your protein?” It is a common misconception that someone following a vegan diet is unable to meet his or her protein needs.
With that being said, vegan protein sources generally provide lower amounts of protein per serving than their animal-based counterparts. Therefore, following a vegan diet simply requires a little more planning.
Others: vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, & calcium
Since vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, it is essential that people following a vegan diet find alternative sources. These sources include fortified foods, like plant-based milks and breakfast cereals, or vitamin supplements.
A primary source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish, which is not consumed on a vegan diet. Nuts and seeds (like flax, chia, and walnuts), as well as plant oils (such as flax, soybean and canola) and fortified foods are all vegan-friendly sources. (5)
Calcium is another nutrient of concern on a vegan diet because of the lack of dairy products, which is a main source of the nutrient. Some plant-based sources of calcium include fortified soymilk, tofu, and kale. (6)
If you are interested in increasing your calcium intake, read about more high calcium foods.
Vegan protein sources
While this list isn’t inclusive of all vegan protein sources, it will give you plenty of ideas of where you can find protein in a vegan diet. For a more complete list, be sure to check out this Vegan Protein Sources Chart.
Beans & Legumes
- Black beans – 7 grams of protein per ½ cup
- Use in bean burgers, bean dip, or stuffed peppers
- Chickpeas – 6 grams of protein per ½ cup
- Also known as garbanzo beans
- Add to salads, roast them as a snack, or blend into hummus
- Lentils – 8 grams of protein per ½ cup
- Try a high protein vegan Bolognese sauce or lentil “Sloppy Joe’s”
Nuts & Seeds
- Almonds – 6 grams of protein per ounce (about ¼ cup)
- Mix in with trail mix or granola, or add to your morning oatmeal
- Chia seeds – 5 grams of protein per ounce
- Also contains omega-3 fatty acids and fiber
- Add to smoothies or protein balls, or make a vegan egg substitute for baking
- Hemp seeds – 9 grams of protein per 3 tablespoons
- Also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and several vitamins and minerals, including iron, B vitamins, magnesium, and more
- Add into baked goods, smoothies, or salads
- Quinoa – 4 grams per ½ cup
- Make a grain bowl, quinoa muffins or plant-based burger
- Rolled oats – 5 grams per ½ cup
- Try overnight oats, homemade granola, or on oatmeal smoothie
- Wheat berries – 7 grams of protein per ¼ cup
- Enjoy as a hot breakfast cereal, grain salad, or with roasted vegetables
- Broccoli – 3 grams per 1 cup
- Try a broccoli slaw, soup, or stir fry
- Peas – 4 grams per ½ cup
- Make a green pea salad, soup, or fritters
- Potatoes (with skin) – 5 grams per medium potato
- Enjoy stuffed potatoes as a meal, or roast them for an easy side dish
-S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central – fdc.nal.usda.gov
-Product nutrition labels
Protein recommendations for older adults
Because the natural aging process includes the loss of muscle, it is recommended that older adults consume more protein than the standard RDA of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (7)
Older adults should aim for a daily protein intake of 1.0-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. A higher protein intake can help older adults recover after illness, preserve strength and function, and promote overall health. (8)
To calculate your protein needs, start by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2 This converts your weight to kilograms. From there, multiply your weight in kilograms by 1.0-1.2 to determine your estimated protein requirements.
For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, that converts to approximately 68 kilograms (150 / 2.2 = 68.2). Therefore, your recommended protein intake ranges between 68 and 82 grams per day.
Tips for building balanced High Protein Vegan Meals
- Include a variety of foods at each meal to maximize your nutrient intake.
- Aim to include at least 3-4 different food groups at each meal.
- For example, a rice bowl made with brown rice (grain), chickpeas (protein), and roasted broccoli (vegetable), and strawberries (fruit) on the side.
- Use the USDA’s MyPlate as a guide to create high protein vegan meals.
- Add nuts and seeds to your meals as you would condiments. Sprinkle them onto your oatmeal, salads, stir-fries, and more, to up your protein intake throughout the day.
- Enjoy 2-3 high protein snacks throughout the day to help you meet your protein goals.
Easy High Protein Vegan Meals
Without further ado, here are three easy high protein vegan meals.
High Protein Vegan Grain Bowls
Grain bowls are one of the most versatile meals because you can customize it to make it your own. You can also add different sauces to kick up the flavor.
A basic grain bowl starts with your choice of grain. Options are nearly endless!
- wheat berries
- and more!
Next, choose a couple of your favorite vegetables. There are no rules when it comes to which vegetables to add. Try roasting some using your favorite seasonings to spice up your grain bowl. You can also add some raw vegetables.
- green peas
- and more!
Then add your vegan protein. Beans and legumes, or other high protein products like tofu are great options. Again, choose what sounds good to you!
Finally, adding a sauce of some sort can make your meal even more interesting. For example, add a peanut sauce for a Thai-inspired meal, or a cilantro-lime dressing for a Mexican flair.
Vegan Lentil Bolognese Sauce with Pasta
When it comes to high protein vegan meals, it doesn’t get much easier than a delicious bowl of pasta with lentil Bolognese sauce. Make it even simpler by starting with a jar of store-bought vegan marinara sauce.
To pack a protein punch, choose pasta made from beans or legumes, such as chickpea pasta. These varieties are becoming quite popular so you should have plenty to choose from at the grocery store.
Lentil Bolognese Sauce with Chickpea Pasta
- One jar vegan marinara sauce
- 1 cup lentils
- 1 package chickpea pasta
Start cooking your lentils.
- add one cup of lentils to a pot of water and bring to a boil.
- Cover the pot and reduce heat.
- Continue cooking the lentils for about 20 minutes, and be sure to stir occasionally.
- Drain any excess water.
Start cooking your pasta.
- Next, cook your pasta as directed on the box.
Make your bolognase sauce.
- While the pasta cooks, heat your store-bought (or homemade!) pasta sauce in a sauté pan.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer.
- Once it is simmering, add in the cooked lentils.
You can also add sauteed onions, other cooked veggies, and seasoning to taste (think oregano, basil, rosemary!).
Bring it all together!
- Once your pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the Bolognese sauce and stir to combine.
- Serve with a hearty side salad.
Going vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out on some of your favorite breakfast foods.
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 block of firm tofu
- 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- Optional: other cooked veggies (onion, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes)
- Start by breaking apart the tofu block into small crumbles.
- Next, heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan.
- Add the tofu and cook for a few minutes, until most of the moisture from the tofu is gone.
- Evenly sprinkle the tofu with 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, ¼ teaspoon turmeric, and ¼ – ½ teaspoon garlic powder.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir everything so the seasonings are evenly distributed throughout.
- Continue cooking for a few extra minutes, or until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.
Serve with your choice of breakfast sides. Perhaps peanut butter toast for an extra boost of protein!
Conclusion: High Protein Vegan Meals
When it comes to creating high protein vegan meals, variety is key! By including different protein sources and food groups at your meals, you are more likely to meet your protein needs.
Use the meal ideas shared above, or mix and match your favorite vegan protein sources to come up with new meal ideas. Creating high protein vegan meals can be fun, easy, and delicious!
- arnard, Neal D., et al. “A Mediterranean Diet and Low-Fat Vegan Diet to Improve Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors: A Randomized, Cross-over Trial.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2021, pp. 1–13., https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2020.1869625.
- Dinu, Monica, et al. “Vegetarian, Vegan Diets and Multiple Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, vol. 57, no. 17, 2017, pp. 3640–3649., https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447.
- Lynch, Heidi, et al. “Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 12, 2018, p. 1841., https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121841.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Food Forum. Providing Healthy and Safe Foods As We Age: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. 5, Nutrition Concerns for Aging Populations. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK51837/
- “Office of Dietary Supplements – Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/.
- “Office of Dietary Supplements – Calcium.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium. “- Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D – NCBI Bookshelf.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t4/?report=objectonly.
- Bauer, Jürgen, et al. “Evidence-Based Recommendations for Optimal Dietary Protein Intake in Older People: A Position Paper from the Prot-Age Study Group.” Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, vol. 14, no. 8, 8 Aug. 2013, pp. 542–559., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2013.05.021.