Omnivore’s Paradise: Strategies for Getting Sufficient and Tasty Protein

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I am a full-fledged,

card-carrying omnivore.

 

We actually use that term in all seriousness around our house because the kids went through a heavy-duty, long-term dinosaur phase over the past few years.  They’re still pretty interested, but not nearly as enthralled as they were between the ages of 2 and 6.  But as children’s obsessions go, I’ll take dinosaurs over the other options any day!

Buddy the T-Rex, of “Dinosaur Train,” first brought the terms herbivore, carnivore and omnivore to life for the kids, and these words were integrated into their language and world view.  Recognizing that the food we eat at home is a mixture of both plant- and animal-based sources, we dubbed ourselves omnivores.  It’s a title that works, I think, because we all love both meat and plant-based foods, and consume them in proportionate quantities to satisfy our nutritional needs and our taste buds.

There are a ton of ways to get adequate sources of protein into the diet.  Some of them are just downright pragmatic and not terribly creative on the culinary scale–and that definitely has its place and serves its purpose at times.  These methods include: eating scrambled eggs or egg whites, hard-boiled eggs, baked chicken, basic canned tuna, a protein shake made with only water or milk, and protein bars.  They aren’t gourmet, but sometimes you just need to get in some foods with extra protein, and that’s okay!  But if that’s the only way you’re getting your protein, I’m betting you’re going to get BORED.

Enjoyment plays a factor in developing healthier, long-term eating strategies and habits.  Any of us can ‘white-knuckle it’ through a bland or restrictive diet for a while, but….eventually we ‘rebel’ and tend to throw the baby out with the bath water.

If we can find, develop and tweak methods of eating in a way we both find satisfying to the taste buds AND the waistline, then we have a recipe for success (pun intended).

 

To review how much protein a person needs each day, here are the basics:

“The basic recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or around 0.36 g per pound) of body mass in untrained, generally healthy adults.

 

For instance, a 150 lb (68 kg) person would consume around 54 grams a day.
However, this amount is only to prevent protein deficiency. It’s not necessarily optimal, particularly for people such as athletes who train regularly and hard.
For people doing high intensity training, protein needs might go up to about 1.4-2.0 g/kg (or around 0.64-0.9 g/lb) of body mass.2 Our hypothetical 150 lb (68 kg) person would thus need about 95-135 g of protein per day.” (http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-protein)

 

 

As I’ve said before, I’m not an IIFYM girl (if it fits your macros), and I don’t like counting calories or grams of anything as a regular practice.  That said, I DO find it helpful to engage in food journaling/food logging/food tracking initially when starting a new approach to eating (changing your diet), and occasionally as a ‘check in’ to see if what we think we’re eating (in terms of calories and/or grams of macronutrients) is in line with what we’re actually eating.  Once you have an idea of how many grams you should be eating per day, roughly, it makes it easier to break down that total number of grams into servings of protein (from various sources), which can then begin to guide your meal planning/structuring.

For example, I weigh roughly 140 lbs right now, and I’m pretty active:  I strength train vigorously 3 times a week, and I run 3 times a week.  My strength training sessions might also include some HIIT work, such as sprints, too, so that’s going to influence how much protein I aim to eat.  Like I said, I’m pretty active, but not super active, so I’d start with a base goal of 0.64g/lb, which would give me a rough goal of 90 grams of protein as a daily goal to not just sustain muscle, but build it.

So from there, I just need to figure out how many grams of protein some food sources have, then start planning them into my meals throughout the day.  AND, more importantly, I can start ‘eyeballing’ what a serving of protein REALLY looks like in real life so that I can eventually move from measuring and counting grams to just counting the servings I consume throughout the day.  It’s shifting from counting to eating more intuitively, which is much more sustainable in the long-term than always counting and measuring and weighing, etc–unless you really like counting (and I’m guessing if you do, you probably like spreadsheets, too), in which case, count away if that’s what makes you happy!  I hate it, so I’ve learned to visually recognize what a serving of X grams of protein looks like and keep a running tally in my head over the course of the day–like I do with vegetables.  You just have to figure out what method is best for YOU.

 

Here’s one chart that gives you some estimates on how many grams of protein common foods have:

ACE Fit Facts Healthy Proteins Chart

Source: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-fact-article/3579/making-healthy-protein-choices/

And a nice article summarizing high protein foods: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/ultimate-list-40-high-protein-foods.html

And here’s another resource showing what a true recommended serving size of each looks like in real life (because most of us don’t eat our meat and fish in 1 oz. increments):

http://www.webmd.com/diet/printable/portion-control-size-guide

It’s pretty normal for me to eat two eggs in one day (12 grams), a serving beef, chicken, pork or fish for lunch and dinner (at 3 oz. per serving, this is roughly around 20g/serving x 2meals makes 40g), a serving of cottage cheese or yogurt (between 12 and 18 grams), a serving of  whey protein +milk (18 g/scoop + 8 g) OR a protein bar (20g), finishing up with a serving of almonds at the end of the day (roughly 8 g).  This pattern of eating, on average, gives me about 96-116 grams per day, based on the above estimates.

But rather than go through the pain of counting and planning meals based on grams/serving, I have simplified it down to getting in a protein source at each meal and most snacks.  Eggs or whey powder figure prominently at breakfast, yogurt with fruit as a snack, meat/poultry/fish at lunch and dinner, maybe a Quest bar, and some nuts later in the day.  **This is how MY consumption of protein looks on a typical day.  What you need may be altogether different for any variety of reasons, and I want to stress that in no way am I a nutritionist or a R.D., I am just giving general guidance for, and examples, of getting adequate protein in one’s diet each day, based on a healthy person’s needs**

At my house, we like to enjoy our food while still getting the nutrition we need to fuel our growing brains and muscles.  So finding recipes that met both needs has been important.  Over time, I’ve discovered or tweaked or developed several basic recipes that meet the majority of my nutritional needs, and agree with my palate and waistline.

Some of My Favorite Protein-Rich Recipes:

Breakfast

Power Oatmeal:  The base of this recipe is 1/3 to 1/2 cup rolled oats, 2/3 to 1 cup water, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, sprinkle of cinnamon, sprinkle of ground flax seed.  From here, anything else you add in depends on what flavor you want your oatmeal to have or if you need extra energy that day.  Microwave 3 1/2 minutes, approximately, and you have a slow-digesting, filling, protein-rich breakfast.

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The ‘pumpkin pie’ variation

 

Scrambles:  2 eggs or 3 egg whites and one yolk or whatever amount/combo suits your needs, 1/4 to 1/3ish cup cooked quinoa, plus as much veggie as you want, plus salt and pepper to taste, cooked in coconut oil–chock full of nutrition and protein.

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Breakfast Burritos:  scrambled eggs of your choice, salsa, thin slices of avocado, black beans (as desired) make a quick, hearty breakfast that can be easily taken ‘to-go.’

Snacks

Cottage Cheese plus one serving berry or fruit of choice (I’m partial to raspberries, blueberries and mango chunks–but not all together, lol)

Yogurt with a sprinkle of homemade (read: reduced sugar) granola and berries

‘Protein-fortified’ Yogurt:  a serving of plain yogurt (not greek) mixed with a scoop of vanilla protein powder.  If you chill it in the freezer for a little while (15-30 minutes) it gets a bit more of a fro-yo or pudding texture.

Basic Whey Protein Shake:  1 scoop protein powder plus 8 oz. milk.  Adding in a dash of various spices can make these much more interesting.

Lunches/Dinners

Chicken Waldorf Salad

Chicken Wraps–whole wheat tortilla, plus shredded chicken or chicken breast strips, plus veggies of choice!  It just depends which ‘flavor’ you’re going for–we tend to be partial to the ‘Californian Chicken Wrap’ flavor with avocado, tomatoes, romaine lettuce (and occasionally bacon….don’t tell).

Slow-Cooker Chili–One pound (cooked) lean ground meat (red meat turns out better, I think), two cans of kidney beans, 1 can pinto beans, 1- 15oz. can tomato sauce, 1- 28oz. can diced tomatoes, chili powder (I usually make my own–less sodium that way), cook on low for 4-6 hours, or high for 2-4.

2 Chili Bowl

White chili on the left, slow cooker chili on the right. I couldn’t choose between them that day!

 

White Bean Chicken Chili

Black Bean Burritos:  When you combine the black beans with a whole wheat tortilla it makes a complete protein!  I like to cook the black beans with sautéed chopped red bell peppers and red onions.  I think it takes 15-20 minutes to get the beans where you want them to be, including the sautéing of the peppers and onions.  Add as many veggies and whatever condiments you like!  We tend to use fresh tomatoes, lettuce, a little shredded cheddar and avocado/homemade guacamole.  These are a favorite at our house, because they are tasty, have great texture and leave us feeling satisfyingly full for the night.

 

Finding these recipes, as well as many others, has been a huge help in getting the protein I need on a daily basis, and feeding my family in a healthful way that they (mostly) enjoy and doesn’t break the bank.

 

This is where the ‘practical’ in Practical Nutrition comes in–I choose to make meals that come from as much fresh food as possible, using available, affordable and non-fancy ingredients.  The easier it is to eat well, the more likely we are to stick with it–and sticking with it for the long-haul is the result I’m after, for both myself, my family and my clients.

I hope these recipes help make your planning and eating easier on you, too!  Let me know which one you like, and please share any go-to recipes you have in your nutrition arsenal 🙂

 

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