11 Plant Protein Foods To Add To Your Next Grocery List

by Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Last Updated: July 13, 2020

From the curious carnivore to the veteran vegan, plant proteins should be a regular part of your diet. Protein from plants can diversify a diet and add color and flavor to so many meals. In these times of uncertainty, you can be certain that these foods pack a punch of nutrition.

Americans are hungry for more plant-centered food with plant-based meats making up the biggest share of the plant-based market. Refrigerated plant-based meats are up 63% while the total plant-based meat category is altogether up 18%. A recent Self.inc survey of over 1,300 people found 23% of those surveyed are eating “more vegetarian and vegan meals” than we were pre-COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside of veggie “chicken” nuggets, beefless burgers, and fish-free fillets is the broader goal of shifting to more “whole food” plant protein. That means proteins from vegetables, grains, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds should make it on next week’s grocery list. For further education on the options available, we’ve put together 11 different plant-based proteins to fuel your next meal:
  1. Lentils: These smaller beans are a superstar among fellow legumes, with a hefty 9 grams of protein per 1/2 cup cooked serving. They are perfect as a taco meat stand-in or use in a “lentil loaf” (mock-meatloaf).
  2. Hemp: Rich in manganese and magnesium (minerals that act as coenzymes to help with metabolism of carbohydrate and protein, among other functions), hemp hearts are a welcome addition to breakfast favs like avocado toast or yogurt, or try it in place of bulgur in this unique take on tabbouleh.
  3. Peas: We recommend using split peas in soups or mixed with veggies for a homemade burger patty, while ground yellow peas are a popular protein powder alternative. One cup of dry green split peas delivers nine grams of fiber, which is about a third of your necessary daily value for fiber.
  4. Soy: From tofu to tempeh to “milk,” soy delivers high-quality protein (10 grams, 17 grams, and 8 grams protein per serving, respectively). We recommend using firm tofu for scrambling and extra firm tofu for stir-fry’s.
  5. Cashews: Have you ever soaked overnight, drained, then blended cashews in a high-speed blender? Try it and report back to dietitians@thelittleclinic.com. We swear you won’t be disappointed. Here’s a hint at the yummy result.
  6. Chickpeas: This mild bean can be pureed into hummus, baked with spices for a crunchy snack, or thrown atop salads. Bonus: “aquafaba” is the liquid from a can of chickpeas which can be used for baking in place of eggs!
  7. Oats: One of the higher protein grains, oats do just fine on their own but also work well in muffins, pancakes, or breads.
  8. Peanuts: The richness of peanut butter is a crowd-pleaser. Try making your own from peanut powder and water to limit fat content. Peanuts also play a supporting role in trail mixes or homemade snack bars.
  9. Nutritional yeast: Also known as “nooch,” this flaked cheesy product rivals parmesan in protein quantity and taste, and is fat-free. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn or any pasta dish.
  10. Black beans: This well-liked bean has shown up in Buddha bowls, brownies, dips, and even smoothies.
  11. Spinach: At only 41 calories and 3 grams protein per 1/2 cup cooked, spinach comes out swinging with almost a third of its calories as protein.

Try to challenge yourself to construct half (or more) of your protein choices from plants, starting with these 11 plant-based proteins.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Molly Hembree, MS, RDN, LD

Molly Hembree, MS, RDN, LD

Sometimes the answer is easy: Eat more plants. Plant-forward eating is trendy not just for its health benefits, but also its focus on sustainability, fresh flavor, and wholesome ingredients. Molly has relied on plants as her only fuel for the last seven years and can help you rediscover your love affair with veggies, feel confident you’re getting plenty of protein, or figure out what to do with jackfruit. Whether you’re a vegan veteran or curious carnivore, Molly’s expert food ideas will get you excited to feature plants on your plate.