Struggle with getting dinner on the table? Grab our 5 easy family meal recipes!


How To Get Protein As a Vegetarian (11 ways with recipes)

What are the best high protein vegetarian foods? How do you get protein as a vegetarian? Are there better and best vegetarian protein sources?

These are some of the many questions I get about following the vegetarian diet from clients. While I am personally not a vegan or vegetarian (we do eat small amounts of meat), I do incorporate many plant-based meals into my diet.

I love a good burger just as much as I love a good tempeh sandwich, and I’ve really learned to just listen to what my body wants in the moment (thanks to these tips for intuitive eating).

As an Amazon Affiliate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Honestly, though, I find vegetarian meals less intimidating and easier to cook, so they do win over more often than not, unless we seem to have copious amounts of chicken sausage on hand.

I do have several vegetarian recipes on the blog, so I do consider myself quite plant-based, and I work with many plant based runners. 

Plus, for those on a cheap college meals diet, vegetarian and plant-based eating can be very budget friendly.

Is It Easy To Make Healthy Vegetarian Meals With Protein?

Totally. With the list below, you’ll see how easy it can be to mix and match, and you don’t have to feel intimidated with cooking vegetarian sources of protein.

Whether you want a high protein vegetarian salad or a protein-packed snack, incorporate the foods below.

In this post on vegetarian sources of iron for runners, we even discuss how to achieve more than the RDA with pairing foods, as some research shows vegetarian athletes may need 1.8x more iron due to lower bioavailability.

sweet potato nachos in blue serving bowl topped with avocado and sour cream | Bucket List Tummy

What Are The Main Sources of Protein For Vegetarians?

Vegetarian staples are not only extremely high in fiber and nutrients, but research also shows that you can meet your protein recommendations (as well as other nutrients) without relying on meat (1). 

Athletes have higher protein needs than non-athletes, so if you’re wondering, How much protein should athletes eat?, check out this post. 

In other words, there are several vegetarian protein foods worth including in your diet so let’s talk about how to get protein as a vegetarian. 

It’s also important to note that many vegetarian foods can be plant based iron sources.

And if you want to go completely meatless, see how it’s important to be aware of certain nutrients in a vegan diet for runners

I’ve reached out to some friends in the blogging world, and we’ve compiled some great ideas for incorporating more meatless meals into your lifestyle. 

Many of these recipes do include eggs and dairy. 

How To Get Protein As A Vegetarian

1. Eggs

Eggs are one of those foods I eat every day and in my opinion, are one of the best vegetarian protein sources because they’re so nutrient-dense. 

Egg nutrition is very science-based, and you don’t need to fear the yolks!

Whether it be mixing them in with oatmeal, having a hard-boiled egg for a snack on the go, a vegan sweet potato kale hash, or putting eggs over pizza, these little guys are nutrient-dense power foods.

veggie breakfast pizza on flatbread on blue plate

Nutritionally speaking, 1 large egg provides:

  • 6-7 grams protein
  • Vitamin D, if you eat the yolks (one of few foods that you can find Vitamin D!)
  • Micronutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin B6 and B12, iron, choline and more

Egg muffins, like these from Julias Album, are also great for on the go snacks and are very customizable.

Not all vegetarians will include eggs, but those who do are called ovo-vegetarians.

2. Tofu

Tofu is a staple vegetarian protein food, with the most similar nutrition profile and amino acid profile to meat (2). 

I used to think tofu was too watery, but there are so many flavorful and delicious ways to prepare it that it’s a staple in my normal diet now. It generally takes on whatever taste and seasoning you want it to, which makes it very forgiving.

Tofu can be baked, grilled, fried, steamed or sauteed.

When choosing tofu, know that the more firm versions will have slightly more protein.

1 cup of Tofu has:

  • 20 grams of protein
  • >70% daily needs of calcium and iron
  • Healthy unsaturated fatty acids

You can use it and bread it like you would chicken in tofu parm.

Closeup of tofu parm with breaded mixture on a salad

Or, you can totally rock out with the plant based proteins and combine hemp and tofu, like in this Hemp Crusted Tofu from Food, Pleasure and Health.

hemp crusted tofu on baking sheet

3. Tempeh

Another soy product, tempeh, is similar to tofu in that it takes on whatever seasonings or flavors you’re combining it with.

What sets it apart from tofu is that it also has probiotics in it, as it is a fermented soybean. Probiotics are great helpers for our gut bacteria, and help outnumber the “bad” bacteria and toxins.

Personally, I prefer the texture of tempeh to tofu and love it blended in a vegan power bowl. Once it’s grilled up, you wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from meat.

We also love making tempeh in the air fryer or in a tempeh buddha bowl

Vegan Buddha Bowl in white bowl with quinoa, tempeh, avocado, beets, peppers, sweet potatoes

Or, chop it up like ground meat and throw it in tacos, like these black bean tempeh tacos, from The Garden Grazer. 

tempeh tacos with beans tomatoes and avocado

One 4 oz serving of tempeh gives you:

  • 20 grams protein
  • 12 grams fiber
  • High daily values for manganese, copper, magnesium

4. Edamame

Edamame, or soybeans as most commonly known, are high protein vegetarian foods and are also fiber superstars. They are easy to add to any mixed dish, or even eat on their own.

You can buy them frozen or dried and are one of my favorite on-the-go snacks!

1 cup of edamame provides:

  • 17 grams of protein
  • 8 grams of fiber
  • Folate, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium

Use it in stir-fries or mix it with other grains and legumes for a vegetarian protein salad or high protein vegetarian lunch. 

Shelled and unshelled edamame in bowls on table

5. Lentils

I’ve only recently realized how much I love lentils.

I used to pass them in the grocery store and not even give them a second glance. But now, I’m careful to always have them on hand at home for these lentil recipes for toddlers.

Aside from being virtually fat-free, a cup of lentils gives you:

  • 18 grams of protein
  • 16 grams of fiber
  • Respectable amounts of potassium, iron, magnesium, folate and Vitamin B6

Lentils are one of the best vegetarian protein sources and easy to add to so many things. 

Try out lentils in meatballs, burgers, over salads, or mixed with rice or legumes.

This yellow lentil hummus is my easy, go-to lentil recipe.

Lentil Tahini dip with kale in black skillet

It’s also super easy to use lentils in sauces, like in this lentil bolognesevia Nutritioulicious. 

6. Grains and Legumes

I’ve paired these together because pairing grains and legumes ensure you are getting the complete amino acid profile.

Unlike meats which have all the essential amino acids (building blocks for proteins) that we need, not all vegetarian sources have a complete profile.

For example, grains are usually low in the amino acid, lysine, while beans are normally low in the amino acid, methionine.

However, when you combine them, the complementary profile is complete (3).

One serving of grains normally gives you between 4-8 grams of protein, while a 1/2 cup serving of legumes offers about 8 grams of protein.

Adding both can easily help create protein rich vegetarian meals. 

More recent research shows that it’s less important to have complementary proteins at each meal, but rather throughout the day (4). 

Grains and legumes are also high in:

  • Fiber
  • B Vitamins, iron and magnesium
  • Protein 

Whole grains can also help lower cholesterol and control blood glucose.

Think outside of the box when it comes to grains, beyond the normal brown rice and whole grain bread.

There’s also farro, quinoa, barley, couscous, spelt, freekah, millet, and sorghum.

Some out of the box recipe ideas: 

Sorghum chicken, veggie lettuce wraps from Nutrition Starring You.

Chicken and sorghum in lettuce wraps

Roasting chickpeas is another great way to enjoy legumes as well as add in extra veggies, like in this Buffalo Roasted Chickpea Bowl from Grateful Grazer. 

Bean recipes for toddlers are so versatile and can be enjoyed by the whole family. .

white bowl with chickpeas and broccoli

Or, these roasted chickpea cauliflower pitas.

If you like hummus, hummus itself is not a high source of protein, but it blends well with other options. My favorite is this gluten free pasta salad with hummus. 

7. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast deserves a whole post itself, since nutritional yeast is a great vegan food. We have several recipes for nutritional yeast for kids that we swear by.

In just two tablespoons, you get:

  • 40 calories
  • 6 grams of protein
  • Daily recommendations for most of the B vitamins, as well as a healthy dose of zinc and selenium

While you can find it in bulk bins, I order mine off Amazon and have it within a day or two. It’s a great topping for oatmeal, soups, salads, dips, sandwiches, popcorn, etc. With its inherent cheesy taste, it’s a great topping on popcorn.

Since nutritional yeast imparts a cheesiness, it is a great option for vegan mac n cheese alternatives, like in this Cauliflower Mac n Cheese from Produce on Parade. 

mac n cheese in white bowl made with nutritional yeast

8. Quinoa

A few years ago, quinoa wasn’t even on the radar and now I’d venture to bet that you can find it in a majority of restaurant kitchens and even your cabinets at home!

It may not be the “fad” grain anymore, but unlike legumes and some other grains, it’s a complete source of protein, meaning it provides all of the essential amino acids your body can’t make.

A cup of quinoa boasts:

  • 8 grams of protein
  • 5 grams of fiber
  • Manganese, B vitamins, potassium and iron

One of my favorite parts about quinoa is that it’s just as good cold as it is hot!

For a cool, refreshing twist on quinoa, I love this Mango Lime Quinoa Salad as a great substitute for your pasta salad or this quinoa sweet potato breakfast scramble.

Quinoa is an easy base (we love lemon cheesy quinoa as a base) for so many things, plus it’s totally kid friendly. We love several quinoa recipes for kids as weeknight staples.

Mango quinoa salad with avocado and cherry tomatoes on the side

Quinoa is a great base for protein rich vegetarian meals, because you can add beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, tempeh, etc.

For another twist on the grain, or to serve it hot, try this Cauliflower Hummus Burger from Dishing Out Health.

Cauliflower Burgers on white bowl

9. Hemp Seeds and Chia Seeds

Hemp seeds are another newbie to my diet, within the last year or so. I really love the Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts, and order a bag every month.

They are great as toppings on oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, salads, or even mixed in with cookies and rice/beans.

I love adding them to this high protein overnight oats recipe without protein powder, or even a cake batter smoothie bowls or protein energy bites.

mason jar with oats, cottage cheese, hemp seeds and cinnamon with spoon mixed in

3 tablespoons of hemp seeds offers: 

  • 10 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 20% daily iron, %45 daily magnesium and phosphorus, 20% of daily zinc, as well as a range of B vitamins

2 tablespoons of chia seeds:

  • 5 grams of protein
  • 10 grams of fiber
  • 23% daily magnesium, 20% of daily calcium and 15% daily iron

As you can see, though they be little, they are fierce! The nutrients can add up quickly, and are great add in’s for protein granola, too. 

So many benefits of chia seeds for running, babies, kids, adults and nearly everyone.

overhead view of baking sheet with protein granola spread out and wooden spoon with granola on it

10. Nuts

Nuts can also offer great sources of protein, healthy fats and fiber. The healthy unsaturated fats in nuts have also been shown to reduce cholesterol, as well as a myriad of other benefits (5).

There are many different protein bars boasting nuts and high protein content, but always make sure that there is more protein than sugar! Otherwise, you’re basically buying a candy bar.

Along with seeds, nuts are perfect toppings for oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, salads and even in sauces. These spicy asian zucchini noodles from The Real Food RDs uses almond butter for the creamy sauce.

Zucchini noodles with spiralized veggies in white bowl

You can also easily find almond meal (I like this one) and other nut flours online or in most health stores, which add some variety to baking as well.

I love the texture of almond meal in baking, like in these almond flour banana muffins. These muffins with nut flours are also great sources of protein for vegetarian toddlers. 

Banana Muffins in bowl with kitchen towel and on white countertop

11. Dairy

Dairy is also a great addition to a high protein vegetarian diet. Anyone who knows me well knows I can’t live without my greek yogurt. I rely on it every day as my mid-afternoon snack and for a protein boost.

For those who tolerate and eat/drink dairy, 1 cup of cow’s milk provides 8 grams of protein, in addition to other nutrient such as calcium, potassium and Vitamin D. It can be a great liquid for smoothies, and for cooking oats!

While those who follow vegan lifestyles may choose almond or coconut milk, beware that they have virtually no protein. Soy milk, though, is comparable with 8 grams of protein per cup.

This post talks about a comparison of the nutritional benefits of milk. 

5 oz of greek yogurt provides 15 grams of protein, as well as calcium, potassium and probiotics. Smoothies with greek yogurt are the creamiest. 

Pink beet smoothie with blue straw

It can also be substituted for mayo and sour cream, perfect for chicken salad or tuna salad

tuna on wheat toast on blue plate

Greek yogurt can even be thrown in guacamole and other dips to meet protein needs for a high protein vegetarian needs. 

Avocado dip in white bowl

Obviously, there are many other ways to incorporate this gem into your meals and snacks.

There are many more honorable mentions that may deserve a future post, like green peas and sprouted grains!

In the meantime, I hope you found this helpful and share it with someone who may be looking for it. 



Favorite meatless meal? 

Join The Conversation

More For You!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like This Content?

Support Bucket List Tummy
  1. Real talk : I nearly couldn’t scroll past the eggs at the top because OMG delicious.
    What a gorgeous collection of ideas! I have never actually cooked tofu or tempeh at home (those I love to order it). You’ve inspired me to try!!

  2. Love this list! I’m far from a vegetarian, but have no problem going meatless a couple days of the week. Beans and grains are some of my favorite meat-free protein sources, but you’ve got me curious to try nutritional yeast.

  3. Such a great post Sarah! I have always loved beans, yogurt and cheese, and grains, but I have come to love tofu over the years and it’s such a great addition to vegetarian meatless meals! And even better, I’ve gotten my husband to be a fan of our meatless nights too! Thanks so much for including my lentil bolognese here. Hope you give it a try!