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High-Protein Vegetarian Lunch

by Rebekah Richards

Eating a vegetarian diet may help reduce your chances of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. However, vegetarian moms must make sure they provide their families with enough key nutrients, such as protein. Serving a lunch that includes plant sources of protein helps your family maintain their energy levels and sense of well-being.

Protein Basics

Your body needs protein to grow, repair tissue and maintain your metabolism. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body contains proteins. Protein is made up of 20 different types of amino acids. Your body can't produce some types of amino acids on its own, so you must consume them through food. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein varies according to age. Children ages 4 to 8 need 19 g per day, while children ages 9 to 13 need 34 g per day. Between the ages of 14 and 18, girls need 46 g per day, and boys need 52 g per day. Adult women need about 46 g of protein per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most Americans get plenty of protein every day, but vegetarians must get protein from sources other than meat.

Vegetarian Protein Options

Depending on the type of vegetarian diet you follow, you may still eat some animal sources of protein, such as fish, eggs, milk and cheese. These sources of protein are usually higher in fat, however, so don't rely solely on animal protein. Plant sources of protein include cooked dry beans, rice, nuts, seeds, whole grains, tofu, tempeh and nut butters. These sources of protein are naturally high in nutrients; most are also low in fat.

Lunch Ideas

High-protein vegetarian lunch options include bean burritos or quesadillas, chili made with seasoned black beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, stir-fried rice with vegetables or tofu, peanut butter or hummus sandwiches, fresh vegetables with creamy dressing or hummus, quinoa or other grains with cooked vegetables, vegetable soup or vegetable stew. Adding a handful of nuts or seeds also boosts your protein intake. If you eat dairy products, you can also add protein with a glass of milk, a cup of yogurt or some low-fat string cheese. Vegetable omelets and frittatas also have lots of protein. For a kid-friendly lunch, pack a peanut or almond butter sandwich, sliced veggies with creamy ranch dressing, and yogurt topped with nuts and raspberries.

Considerations

Plant-based or incomplete sources of protein don't provide all the essential amino acids your body needs. Plant-based sources of protein are low in different amino acids, so eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein daily ensures that you get all the essential amino acids. Two sources of protein that provide enough of all essential amino acids together are called complementary proteins. You don't have to eat complementary proteins at the same meal, but try to eat them in the same day. For example, if you eat beans at lunch, have rice for dinner.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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