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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Meat-Eater's Guide to Crafting a Meatless Meal, pt.2

When you operate with a low grocery budget for a long period of time, one of the concerns that becomes deeply-rooted is how the budget will impact family members' health and well-being. Will this be enough for my family? Will everyone feel full? And more importantly, will they get the nutrients that they need? Do my children and husband have enough to eat? These thoughts have filled my head for many years. And since we've eaten meatless a lot more than I ever did growing up, I've had to pay extra attention to the protein content in our meals.

For most of us, you really don't need to do a bunch of calculations each day to ensure a good amount of protein in your diet. We can kind of use an educated guess whether or not a meal looks like it's got enough protein or not. It's pretty simple when you're serving an animal-based protein, like beef, chicken, or fish. We all know what a serving of meat looks like. With meatless meals, it's not always so obvious. My best trick in getting enough protein (without going crazy making calculations) is to simply bump up all of the meatless meals just a bit.

What do I mean by bumping them up? I try to add something extra to every component of a meal. 

As I'm planning meatless meals, I make an effort to toss in some extras that pack some protein, like using an egg-rich Yorkshire pudding as the bread/starch side dish (adding 6.8 grams of protein for 1/5 of a recipe), choosing a high-protein vegetable like peas to go with an entree, or making a batch of milk-rich cornstarch pudding or a bunch of custard cups of egg custard for dessert, or adding a tablespoon of Parmesan to each serving (3 grams protein per tablespoon) or large dollop of plain yogurt on top of most anything (about 1  1/2 grams protein). Even a slice of pumpkin pie adds over 4 grams of protein. I aim for 3 to 4 different, good sources of protein in each meatless dinner. This pretty much ensures that I'm getting a balance of all of the necessary amino acids without having to look up tables and charts.

Here's how that might play out with my family.

My family loves broth-based vegetable soups, such as our fall favorite Cabbage Patch Soup (with about 15 grams of protein when made with lentils, add another 3 grams protein when topped with Parmesan). When this soup is on the menu, I often serve it with either wedges of Yorkshire pudding (almost 7 grams or protein) or open-faced toasted cheese sandwiches (adding about 10 grams protein), plus our favorite pumpkin pie (4 grams protein). This sort of simple soup and bread/sandwich dinner with pie dessert has 26 to 32 grams of protein.

I'd like to note, while mentioning lentils, some beans have more grams of protein than others. The best way to make this comparison of the different bean types is by grams of protein for every 200 calories. So, here's the list starting from the top with the most protein and working down.

  1. lentils come in at number one for protein content. For every 200 calories, you get 15.6 grams protein
  2. split peas, with 14.1 grams protein in 200 calories
  3. large white beans, with 14 grams protein in 200 calories
  4. cranberry beans and 
  5. kidney beans both have 13.7 grams protein in 200 calories
  6. lima beans, with 13.6 grams of protein in 200 calories
  7. black beans, with 13.4 grams protein in 200 calories
  8. pinto beans, with 12.6 grams protein in 200 calories
  9. and last in this little list --navy beans, with 11.8 grams protein in 200 calories
(information for this list courtesy of

That's a substantial spread in protein content between the top of the list and the bottom, a difference of 3.8 grams of protein in a serving. That's a little more than half of an egg's worth of protein, simply by choosing a different type of bean. Lentils are my preferred bean for their quick cooking. The extra protein is something of a bonus.

While we're talking lists of best bang for the buck with protein and similar foods, I thought it would be interesting to look at a list of grains by their protein content.

  1. kamut comes in at number one for protein. For every 200 calories, you get 8.7 grams of protein. Kamut is an ancient grain that is gaining in popularity. In my search for flour and whole wheat berries, I came across kamut in a couple of places online.
  2. whole wheat pasta, with 8 grams protein in 200 calories. Pasta in general is high in protein
  3. wild rice, with 7.9 grams protein in 200 calories.
  4. teff, with 7.7 grams protein in 200 calories. Teff is another obscure grain that is gaining in popularity. While whole wheat flour was about sold out everywhere in April, I did see teff flour.
  5. quinoa, with 7.3 grams protein in 200 calories. Quinoa is not a true grain, but it is eaten like a grain. Quinoa has all of the essential amino acids. You can cook it as a side dish, like rice, marinate it as a salad base, or add it to soup. It's one of my favorite "grains" for it's nutrition and versatility.
  6. buckwheat, with 7.3 grams protein in 200 calories.
  7. whole wheat flour, with 7.2 grams protein in 200 calories (the protein content does vary in wheat, but this is an average given by
  8. oatmeal, with 7.2 grams protein in 200 calories.
  9. couscous, with 6.8 grams protein in 200 calories
  10. all-purpose flour, with 6 grams protein in 200 calories
  11. millet, with 5.9 grams protein in 200 calories
  12. cornmeal, with 4.8 grams protein in 200 calories
  13. brown rice, with 4.2 grams protein in 200 calories
  14. white rice, with 3.6 grams of protein in 200 calories

Not a grain at all, but we eat potatoes in the same category as grains for side dishes. Potatoes have 5.27 grams protein in 200 calories, so slightly more than brown rice.

(information for this list from

This is interesting, right? While eating the same number of calories in your grain dishes, you can choose to get twice as much protein in each serving. By combining strong grain choices with bean choices, one could add as much as 8 or 9 grams of protein to a meal. That's as much extra protein as is found in 1.5 large eggs, without eating anything extra but just making stronger choices.

Before I go today, I wanted to point out a great calculator tool for recipes. There are a few different calculator tools, but I find this one to be very user-friendly. When I'm wanting to know any nutritional content for a home recipe, I can pop the ingredients into the tool, specify servings, and get the nutrients calculated for me per serving. I used it to calculate the protein for my mom's Yorkshire pudding recipe and the pumpkin pie that I often make.

Foods to include in the pantry (and fridge) for bumping up your meatless meals:

  • dried beans, especially lentils
  • canned beans
  • bean flour to use in baking, such as garbanzo bean/chickpea flour (11.8 grams protein in 200 calories)
  • whole grains (and their products), such as quinoa, whole wheat pasta, teff flour, oatmeal
  • Parmesan cheese -- doesn't have to be the fancy shredded Parmesan. The powdered stuff has protein, too.
  • Greek yogurt
  • eggs
  • extra firm tofu

Meat isn't only about protein content. When eating meatless, it's important to maximize all of the other nutrients that one normally gets from animal sources.  Till next time . . .


  1. Wow, you are giving us a comprehensive guide for healthy eating without using animal protein. I'm sure I will be referencing this! I already tend to bump up the protein content in our meals and snacks but if we have to eat meatless meals, I will need help to pull that off. What's your sense of the supply of eggs? So far I've only had 1 week here when they were hard to source. The rest of the time they have been plentiful and cheap.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Eggs are currently back in supply in my area. But my thinking is once the meat shortage really sets in with many people, they'll turn to eggs for a significant source of their protein. That's just a hunch. I did a curb-side pick-up at Walmart over the weekend and was able to get the limit on eggs (which was quite generous at the time, I thought), and the price on the eggs was its normal low for spring. Yesterday morning, I froze a 5-dozen case of eggs to use when prices go up. I hope to get another case soon for freezing.

      I also think that as people go back to work (whenever that happens), eating habits will shift again. The foods that were easy to prepare at home in the middle of the day for lunches at the height of the pandemic (like eggs), will shift to more portable protein sources, like peanut butter and lunchmeat (if the prices aren't too high). And more families might go back to getting take-out for quick meals instead of making something quick and easy at home (like eggs).

      It's all such a guessing game. The good news is that there are a lot of different foods that can meet protein needs.

  2. Thank you for doing this, Lili. It's quite interesting. What types of beans do you think are considered to be large white beans?
    Jo Ann

    1. Hi Jo Ann,
      I think they mean Cannellini beans. They are meatier than Navy or of Great Northern beans (which are also white).

  3. I don't understand technology very well. For some reason, I can comment on my laptop but not via my tablet. I created a google account, in order to comment, so instead of YHF, I'm going to just use my name. I think there was another Laura, but I haven't seen her comment in awhile.

    Thank you so much for having this discussion about meatless meals. I will copy your list in my junk journals (for these, I used business junk mail, folded in half), I keep a journal for various topics, as I see the need to keep notes and paste articles.

    Lately, we've been in love with hemp seeds, for it's smooth, nutty taste and nutrition. On the package of hemp seeds, it says for one serving, 3T, 180 calories, there are 10g protein, 12g omega6:omega3 (roughly in 3:1 ratio, 1:1 is advised, but more often in our SAD we are consuming 25-50:1 ratios), also 100% manganese, 45% magnesium, 35% phosphorous, 25% thiamine, 20% iron, 10% B6, 10% folate, 8% riboflavin, 8% potassium, 2% calcium. I thought I'd just mention it since it is another protein rich food and has all the essential amino acids too.

    1. Hi Laura,
      Hemp seeds keep popping up in my research as good for protein. Thanks for mentioning them and providing the nutrient content. How do you like to use them?

  4. We use them in baking breads, mostly, to give added nutrition and taste (also, it seems to have an aroma too). I try to squeeze nutrients where ever we can since we're only eating 2 meals/day.

    1. I think that's wise to try to maximize nutrition at every step. Have you done anything like pre-soaking the seeds or sprouting to enhance absorption of the minerals in the seeds?

    2. The hulls are removed so I don't think it would be possible, just a guess. And the "drug" is in the leaves, so I'm pretty sure sprouting would not be advised either.

    3. Oh, okay. ha ha on the sprouting. I didn't even think of that.

  5. All very interesting. I am enjoying your protein series.

  6. I find your analyses very interesting, though we don't personally eat very many meatless meals (I avoid soy for health reasons). A few meals are naturally meatless, such as potato soup, but I do add some gelatin for added protein (and cheese, of course!). I also use the collagen form of gelatin in my coffee each morning for added protein.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I think we all need to find what is right for our own bodies. I've been thinking about gelatin, too, as something that would add some protein to my family's meals. I buy unflavored gelatin and then make gelled dishes for us from the fruit we grow or forage. It must adds something, even if just a small amount.


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