Protein, a nutrient popularized by fad diets, weightlifters, and nutrient shakes, is magical for a real reason: It supports a feeling of fullness. What’s more, many foods that are good sources of protein — seafood, dairy, nuts and seeds, beans, tofu, meat and poultry — also supply many other nutrients. While the latest round of Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that we consume near the target for this nutrient (so there’s no need to add extra protein to our diets), the key is choosing quality sources of protein for the most bang for our nutrient buck.
For omnivores on an average (2000 calories daily) diet, consuming the 5.5 ounces of protein daily as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines is not only do-able but can also be easy. Four ounces of cooked meat equals four ounces protein foods (or 4-ounce equivalents of protein foods) and one cooked egg equals a one-ounce portion, according to the Dietary Guidelines. (Add a handful of nuts and you’ve met your protein needs for that day with the four ounces meat plus egg.) Our recipes provide you with the ounce-portion of chicken, fish, or beef, for instance, in a serving, which can help you keep track, if desired. And if you’re not following a recipe, a way to eyeball a three-ounce portion of meat is to compare it to a stack of playing cards or the palm of your hand.
Furthermore, meats, seafood, and poultry pack in plenty of protein per ounce. Meats also offer zinc; poultry provides niacin (a B vitamin); some types of seafood supply those essential omega-3 fatty acids. Most meats and seafood come packaged with iron. Low-fat dairy typically provides quality protein as well as calcium (with vitamins A and D often added). Since we eat foods (and not nutrients), choose different protein-packed options at meals to include a variety of nutrients.
The simplest option: choose quality cuts of meats, poultry, and seafood plus low-fat dairy to ensure you’re getting protein-packed meals that are filling and nutrient-dense. Here are some great options to get you started:
Milk and yogurt give this breakfast smoothie a double-hit of protein.
These sausages will be the smart star of any pancake breakfast or brunch menu.
Make this a to-go sandwich by packing the egg salad, greens, and pita separately.
Poached chicken, pasta and greens are a great combination for a lunch or light dinner.
Well-seasoned lean ground poultry makes a great turkey burger that comes together quick enough for a weeknight dinner with a green salad on the side.
Asian-flavored lean beef is a co-star with many vegetables in this super stir-fried rice bowl.
Lean chicken goes from blah to bueno with an easy overnight marinade and a quick broil. Serve these fajitas with guacamole and tortillas to make a meal.
For a superfast weeknight entrée, it doesn’t get better than omega-3 fatty acid-packed salmon fillets seasoned with lemon, salt and thyme.
You won’t need a grill with assertively seasoned banh-mi-style beef burgers. These are perfect with a side of green beans and shallots.
Perfectly portioned and prepared with a sweet-tart fruit sauce, these pork medallions would be perfect over brown rice or farro and broccoli.
Do you have a favorite protein-packed meal? Tell us all about it!