I debated whether to title this entry “Easy protein for vegetarians” or “When a healthy diet backfires”.

I’ve recently come to realize that my efforts to eat healthy can end up backfiring on me. With so man foods on the “BAD” list – and, by ‘bad’, I just mean foods I don’t eat… meat, dairy, sugar, wheat, etc., I’m often left with very few options when I’m out to dinner with friends. Case in point, last night we ended up at an English pub. My options were…. wait for it… chips or crisps. Translation: French Fries or potato chips. Alrighty then, dinner, once again, would be potato chips. At least they were homemade and fresh! (my silver lining… )

This tends to happen to me often. There are days I realized I’ve eaten oatmeal, oatmeal and more oatmeal… and maybe some corn tortilla chips and avocado or hummus thrown in for good measure.

For someone who claims to be so healthy, I sometimes feel like a total hypocrit.

Even I need a reminder of why we need protein.

For one, plain and simple, protein is used to build muscle and bone. They’re also part of hemoglobin, enzymes, antibodies and hormones, and unlike fat, which we’d like to not store… we don’t store protein. Yes, there’s something seemingly backwards about this system!

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Some are produced by the body, but the rest need to come from food sources – either complete or incomplete proteins.

Without enough protein, our bodies can’t do what we need them to do. We lose muscle, the heart can weaken, and it can even affect bone health, a big problem among the elderly – and, dare I say, vegetarians.

I know personally it can be easy to overthink this whole healthy diet thing. And, when you live alone, the problem can be magnified. It’s so easy to just snack on something with little nutritional value – and especially very little protein.

Protein’s primary source is animals. But, if the thought of cutting into a big, juicy steak, or even gnawing on a chicken leg makes you cringe, here are a few quick and easy ideas to increase your protein intake:

Lentil Soup. I’m personaly partial to Amy’s Low Sodium Lentil Vegetable. It’s a great comfort food … and half the time I take a spoonful straight out of the can before I even heat it up. It’s that good! I also love the curried lentil soup on top of brown rice for a more complete meal, if you have time to make the rice and aren’t in a complete time crunch.
PROTEIN: 14 g/can

Chick peas (in any form!) I usually pick up Eden Organic. There’s so much you can do with these! Toss them in a salad, heat them up in a pain with little olive oil, garlic and salt, or roast them up as a crunchy snack to have on hand for later. My favorite is to toss them with some EVOO, a shake of garlic powder and salt and lots and lots of smoky paprika.  They’re also really good with coconut oil, lime and salt.  Even just simple EVOO, salt and pepper will do too!

Put them in the oven at about 350 for about 30-40 minutes, stirring them around about half way through. You can leave them until they reach your desired crunchiness. But, here’s a tip, the crunchier they are, the better they’ll stay in an airtight container. Otherwise they tend to get a little mushy.
PROTEIN: 25g/can

– Refried Beans. Once again, Amy is my girl. I love Amy’s Kitchen’s light sodium traditional refried beans. They’re quick, easy, flavorful and just require opening a can and heating over the stove. You can serve them on rice, as a dip for chips or in a wrap. The light sodium has just the perfect amount of flavor without being too salty. And, like the Lentil Soup, I’ve been known to eat more than a little of the refried beans straight out of the can! (bring it on hurricane season, I’m ready for surviving on non-perishables as long as Amy is on my side!)
PROTEIN: a lot!! 25g/can

– Joe’s Oat Patties. They’re not quite as quick as opening a can, but they don’t take long and they are probably my favorite veggie burgers. If you’ve never had Joe’s, they’re made in Central Florida and they come in a dry mix. Just add hot water, let them sit for 10 minutes and then throw them in a pan, the grill or the toaster oven. They have everything from traditional veggie flavor to spicy, curry, BBQ or maple breakfast blend. I also love the portabello flavored ones. The protein comes from the quina they’re made with. IMHO, they’re a great consistency, tasty, and very satisfying. And, the other thing I love is that they’re OAT PATTIES – not wanna-be burgers.

I love to cook some up and freeze them and keep them ready to go whenever I want one. My favorite way to eat them is either on a sandwich or a salad with avocado and tomato. A perfect combination!
PROTEIN: anywhere from 9g – 13g

Tempeh – You can find tons of tempeh recipes out there, but tempeh is so tasty that it really doesn’t take more than a few minutes to cook some up and either just nibble on it straight, toss it in a salad, mix with some rice or serve on top of rice noodles. I’m personally partial to LightLife brand that they have in most stores I’ve ever been in and you really can’t go wrong with any of the flavors – three grain, veggie, flax or wild rice.

Just cut it up into bite size pieces and toss it some in some EVOO with a little garlic. Let it brown on both sides, and Voila! 

If I’m feeling really funky, I might mix it with some Tamari too to give it a little more flavor. (I know what you’re thinking… incredibly daring! But, remember, it’s all about quick, easy and tasty treats!) 

I also really love to dip it in garlic hummus or make a wrap with hummus and tomatoes.
It’s nutty, flavorful, and really doesn’t take much to prepare. 
PROTEIN: Half a package (which is what I usually eat, or maybe a little less) has a whopping 22g of protein 

Now… if only I would take my own advice more often…. !!