Meal Plan for Meeting Your Protein Needs
Protein is necessary for almost every cell in the body; from our skin, muscles, organs, nails, and hair, to our blood and hormones. For this reason, our protein needs increase when pregnant and breastfeeding to help support a growing uterus, breasts, milk, and blood supply, as well as help our baby develop and grow.
In general, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding women over 19 years old is 46 grams. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, it is 71 grams. While this recommendation is for an average woman, it’s a great place to start to ensure you are meeting a minimum amount.
Protein sources and gram amounts:
- Meat, poultry, fish: 3 oz cooked contains 18-24 grams
- Eggs: 1 whole egg contains 6 grams
- Dairy: 1 cup has 8 grams. 1 ounce cheese has 6 grams. 1 cup low fat yogurt has 12 grams. 1 cup low fat Greek yogurt has over 15 grams.
- Soy products: 1 cup soy milk contains 7 grams. ½ cup tofu contains 10 grams.
- Nuts and seeds: ¼ cup nuts or seeds has 5 grams.
- Beans and peas: ½ cup beans have 7 grams.
- Whole Grains: 1 cup cooked quinoa has 8 grams. 1 cup cooked oatmeal has 6 grams. 1 slice 100% whole wheat bread has 4 grams.
- Not all protein sources are created equal. When choosing proteins, focus on lean sources such as: eggs, lean cuts of meat, soy products, safe-to-consume seafood such as salmon and cod, poultry without the skin, nuts, seeds, beans and peas, and whole grains. Consuming a variety of these foods will offer you many other nutrients in addition to the protein they provide. Aim to have a bit of protein at each meal and some snacks to help meet your goal.
- The below meal, snack, and recipe ideas can help meet your protein needs.
- Option 1: Smoothie made with fruit, low-fat yogurt or milk, veggies (like spinach or kale) and 1 tablespoon almond or peanut butter (12+ grams protein)
- Option 2: 2 Eggs, black beans, handful of veggies, and salsa wrapped in a whole grain tortilla (22+ grams protein)
- Option 3: Low-fat plain Greek yogurt with berries and chopped walnuts (18+ grams protein)
- Option 4: Oatmeal (1/2 cup dry oats), nut butter, and banana (10+ grams protein. 17+ grams if oatmeal is made with low fat milk or soy milk)
- Option 5: Eggs, whole grain toast, and an orange (16 grams if 2 eggs)
- Option 1: Shredded chicken (seasoned with dijon mustard) over a bed of lettuce with whole grain toast (16+ grams protein)
- Option 2: Tuna* or canned salmon mixed with olive oil and seasonings stuffed in an avocado, sliced tomato drizzled with olive oil, and brown rice (18+ grams protein)
- Option 3: Turkey (fresh, not deli meat), whole grain bread, baby carrots, hummus (30+ grams protein)
- Option 4: Quinoa topped with spiced black beans, diced tomato, and a drizzle of oil, cilantro optional (15+ grams protein)
- Option 5: Chopped salad (use up those veggies left in the fridge!) drizzled with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper; canned salmon, whole grain wrap (20+ grams protein)
- Option 1: Stir-fried veggies and chicken with quinoa (25+ grams protein)
- Option 2: Ground turkey, black beans, and veggies sautéed in a skillet with cumin, chili powder, and a can of low sodium diced tomatoes. Topped with sprinkle of cheese (35+ grams protein)
- Option 3: Shrimp, brown rice, green beans (22+ grams protein)
- Option 4: Broiled salmon, asparagus, millet (31+ grams protein)
- Option 5: Bean and vegetable soup with whole grain toast (10+ grams protein)
- Option 1: White bean dip with fresh cut veggies (5+ grams protein)
- Option 2: Cup of low-fat plain Greek yogurt with whole grain cereal and berries (15-20 grams protein)
- Option 3: Walnuts, raisins, and a few dark chocolate chips (5+ grams protein)
- Option 4: Pear with cheese (6+ grams protein)
- Option 5: Two tablespoons almond butter on whole grain crackers (10+ grams protein)
*pregnant women should eat no more than 6 ounces of high mercury fish per week
**Note that all protein estimates are approximate, and based on 3 oz of meat/fish, ½ cup grains or beans, 8 oz milk, and 6 oz yogurt, unless otherwise noted.
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