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My Go-To Ingredient For Eating a High-Protein Vegetarian Diet Is Probably In Your Fridge – EatingWell

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Much to my family’s dismay, I became a vegetarian at 12 years old. Those first few years were rough; I’m not going to lie. My family were avid meat eaters, and the last thing my mom wanted to do after a long day at work was cook two separate dinners. Needless to say, there were more than a few nights of eating just sides. Sometimes when we went out to dinner, the only vegetarian item on the menu was french fries. I remember more than one barbecue eating PB&Js and chips while everyone around me dug into juicy burgers and hot dogs.

When I went to college, I started exploring vegetarian cooking more seriously, but my meals tended more toward the “carb-atarian” lifestyle— there’s only so much you can do with a dining hall salad bar and a dorm microwave. As my interest and skills in the kitchen grew, so did my nutritional literacy. Now, in my 30s, I’m still a vegetarian, but eating a balanced, protein-packed diet is my priority. I’m an avid lover of all things beans and legumes, as well as tofu, seitan, textured vegetable protein (TVP) and tempeh.

To keep my body fueled and feeling good, I aim to get 75 to 85 grams of protein a day, using little swaps and tweaks to add an extra few grams to each meal and snack. A scoop of peanut butter with some sliced apples in the morning, for instance, or homemade edamame hummus with veggies as a midafternoon snack. But my all-time favorite that I use on just about everything? Strained (Greek-style) yogurt. 

Every week, I buy—and consume—a large tub of Trader Joe’s Nonfat Greek Yogurt. Each 3/4-cup ounce serving has 17 grams of protein. Now, I’m not usually putting an entire serving of yogurt on top of my nachos or tossing my salad with that much yogurt-based ranch, but even just a couple of tablespoons boosts the protein in a meal by a few grams, and in a vegetarian diet, every little bit counts. Truly, it would be a shorter list to tell you what I don’t put strained yogurt in, but here are some of my go-to ways of using strained yogurt to boost my protein intake.

Of course, I like to eat it with honey and berries for breakfast, but I also dollop it on a hearty bowl of oatmeal, blend it into smoothies and use it in place of sour cream in a breakfast burrito. If I have an avocado that looks a little soft, a scoop of yogurt plus a squeeze of lemon with a good smashing makes a filling and balanced avocado toast

For midafternoon snacks, I dip veggies or whole-wheat pita into a creamy yogurt-based dip that I make each week. That boost of protein keeps midafternoon hunger at bay! Greek-style tzatziki with lots of bright lemon and dill is a favorite, but a few scoops of yogurt and a packet of ranch or French onion seasoning are likely to show up on my monthly rotation. If I’m feeling extra fancy, I’ll mix some defrosted chopped spinach, chopped artichoke hearts and a sprinkle of Parmesan with a few hefty scoops of strained yogurt for a quick and easy spinach artichoke dip that also doubles as a killer sandwich spread. 

For my midday meal and dinnertime, strained yogurt isn’t usually a replacement for other proteins but, rather, an enhancement. A marinated lentil salad is my go-to weekday desk lunch, but when I spoon it over a scoop of strained yogurt mixed with some lemon zest, it’s a meal that’ll keep me satisfied all afternoon long. For dinner, I marinate tofu in oregano and lemon juice, grill it and serve it with quinoa and a heaping helping of yogurt tzatziki for a protein-packed dinner. And while a 100-gram serving of tempeh clocks in at around 20 grams of protein, crumbled Buffalo tempeh over a bed of salad greens gets an extra protein boost when I drizzle it with some yogurt ranch. By adding strained yogurt to the easy and convenient meals I already like, I get the benefit of a high-protein diet without a lot of extra work.

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