By Kelsey Casselbury 2016-11-21 12:37:08
A vegetarian diet can be as rich in protein as an omnivore meal plan. When a person decides to become a vegetarian—or, at least, make a point to eat a few meatless meals now and then—they’ll likely get one question over and over again: How will you get enough protein? Of course, the question is well-intentioned, as protein is arguably the most important of the macronutrients. You might remember your childhood science teacher calling it the “building block of life,” and that’s totally true—protein plays a role in basically all bodily functions. The reality, though, is that most Americans (vegetarians included) not only get plenty of protein, but some health experts say that we already eat way too much of it. Therefore, the question isn’t how to get enough, but rather how to choose from the wealth of nutritious vegetarian protein options to get your allotted number of grams per day! What is that number, exactly? The official recommendation (per the Dietary Reference Intake), is that adults should eat approximately 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight—this translates to 0.36 grams per pound. So, if you weigh 140 pounds and don’t exercise very much, you should plan on roughly 53 grams of protein per day. Kids require a bit more—1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound, according to different experts. The meal pattern for the National School Lunch Program requires 2-oz.-eq. daily of meat/meat alternate (this essentially means protein) for students in grades 9-12 and 1-oz.-eq. daily for younger students. If you or a student have decided to forgo animal-based proteins, for whatever reason, don’t fret—there are so many ways to incorporate healthy, plant-based protein into your meals, as well as theirs. Categorical Differences Not all vegetarians are created equal; in fact, there’s nearly a half-dozen categories of vegetarians and vegans. Much of the varations circle around the type of protein a person is willing to eat. Let’s start with vegans, who refrain from consuming all animal products. That means that not only are proteins such as chicken, fish and beef off the menu, but also additional products that come from animals such as dairy items (milk, cheese, yogurt) and eggs. A vegan’s preferred protein sources are legumes (such as beans and peas), soy, nuts and seeds (such as chia or quinoa). Protein also can be found in certain grains and vegetables, but typically in much smaller amounts and often are not considered “complete” proteins. Not all vegetarians are vegans, so some rely on those plant-based proteins, but might include certain animal products in their diet, such as dairy or eggs. For example, a lacto-ovo vegetarian eats both dairy and eggs, while a lacto vegetarian skips the eggs. (As you might guess, an ovo vegetarian would only eat the eggs and not the dairy). What they all have in common is a choice not to ingest any animal flesh, including beef, chicken or fish (those who do eat fish are known pescatarians). It is generally healthy to follow a plant-centric diet, as there are more nutrition benefits to reducing consumption of animal products than there are risks. Still, in addition to protein, there are a few nutrients that vegetarians and vegans need to be aware of and make an effort to include in their diet. For example, vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal products. B12 is a nutrient that helps to make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. A vegetarian could consume dairy products and eggs to get their supply of B12, but vegans would have to turn to fortified products, such as cereal, bread and soy products. Other key nutrients that vegetarians need to find creative ways to add into their diets are vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc. I Spy a Protein Supply Now that we know the generalities about what vegans and vegetarians eat, let’s dive deeper into the specifics of where they find the protein that powers their day! Vegan Proteins You might be surprised to learn that vegans turn to more than 10 commonly consumed proteins. (We’re going to skip the less-conventional options such as hemp, as you’re unlikely to ever see it in a school setting!) Beans. So many beans, so much protein. Beans—of all kinds—tend to be a staple for vegetarians; after all, they can top a salad, stuff a burrito or taco, stretch a soup and make a burger. The amount of protein in beans depends on which variety you’re talking about—black and kidney beans each have 14 grams of protein per cup, while Great Northern and pinto beans have 12 grams a cup. Chia Seeds. These funny little seeds are a vegan anomaly, because they are a complete protein, meaning they contain all essential amino acids. Each ounce of chia seeds contains 4.7 grams of protein, and they can be used in puddings, smoothies, muffins, oatmeal and more. The seeds expand when exposed to liquid, so they are more filling in the stomach than they might seem as an ingredient. Chickpeas. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas (the starring ingredient in hummus!) contain about 12 grams of protein per cup. Chickpeas are beloved in Mediterranean and Indian cuisines, and for good reason—along with their protein content, they’re also high in fiber. Edamame. Edamame comes shelled or unshelled, but the only difference is that you’ll have to peel the pods out of the shell yourself if you choose the former. No matter which form, each cup of edamame (aka soybeans) have about 18.5 grams of protein. They’re particularly apropos for an Asian-style entree. Green Peas. A part of the legume family (like beans), peas contain 7 grams of protein per cup. It’s easy to add them to pasta salad, green salads or other vegetarian dishes to up the protein content. Lentils. This legume might be unfamiliar to students who don’t eat many vegetarian dishes, but that gives you the opportunity to introduce this healthful food. Lentils contains nearly 18 grams of protein per cup, and they can be used in curries, soups/stews, salads, lasagna and more. Nuts/Nut Butter. The amount of protein in nuts and nut butter varies—peanut butter and almond butter, for example, both contain 7 grams per 2 tablespoons. But because nuts tend to be high in fat and calories, they’re less a center-of-the-plate protein for vegans than an indulgence. Still, there might be no better way to get a young vegan or vegetarian to get more protein than to offer him a PB&J sandwich. Quinoa. Complete protein alert! Quinoa (technically a seed, not a grain) contains all nine essential amino acids, and it has more than 8 grams of protein per cup. While quinoa can be cost-prohibitive for schools, it’s worthwhile to do some taste-testing with this protein powerhouse—try it in a dish in place of brown rice. Seitan. This meat substitute is likely new to you! Seitan is made from wheat gluten and provides 15 grams of protein for every 3-oz. serving. It’s typically offered in frozen or refrigerated chunks, and can be used to replace meat in stir-fries, fajitas or wraps. Note: It is not gluten-free. Tempeh and Tofu. A vegetarian’s mainstay, tempeh (20 grams of protein per 3.5 ozs.) and tofu (22 grams per 3.5 ozs.) can be used as substitutes in plenty of meat dishes, just like seitan. Although you can only credit firm or extra-firm tofu in school meals (see page xx), silken tofu ramps up the protein content in salad dressings or protein shakes at home. Vegetarian Proteins Those vegetarians who don’t follow a strict vegan philosophy have even more protein options to consider. Cheese. Cheese-lovers, rejoice! Cheese has plenty of protein, though you have to watch out for the fat content. One ounce of part-skim mozzarella cheese contains more than 6 grams of protein, and an ounce of cheddar has nearly 7 grams. Eggs. Sometimes called “nature’s perfect food,” each egg offers 6 grams of protein. These little guys can be the path to vegetarian protein at all meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Go beyond typical prep methods and experiment with quiches or frittatas. Milk. You might be surprised at how much protein your student customer vegetarians are already getting from a carton of milk—each cup of skim milk contains more than 8 grams of protein. Yogurt. Lucky for student vegetarians (and those who offer them school meals), both soy yogurt and regular dairy yogurt credit in the same amount: ½ cup or 4 ozs. equals 1-oz.-eq. meat alternate. Beyond the meal pattern, plain nonfat yogurt contains 5.7 grams of protein per 3.5-oz. serving, while Greek yogurt has 10 grams of protein for the same amount. Soy yogurt, however, only has 2.6 grams of protein per 3.5-oz. serving. Incomplete and Complementary Proteins If you dabbled in vegetarianism some years back, you might remember advice to combine certain proteins to make them “complete.” A complete protein contains nine amino acids that are considered “essential,” because your body can’t produce these. Animal-based proteins are complete proteins; however, most plant-based proteins are “incomplete,” because they don’t contain all those essential amino acids. There are exceptions to this: Quinoa, soy—such as tofu and tempeh—and seitan are all vegan complete proteins. Animal-based vegetarian proteins, such as dairy and eggs, also are all complete proteins. It used to be widely touted that a vegetarian needed to eat certain foods in combination, such as rice and beans, because the duo together would create a “complete” protein. Researchers now have realized that it’s not necessarily the case. While it’s true that rice and beans complete all nine essential amino acids (and create such a lovely south-of-the-border meal when paired!) it’s not necessary to eat them together in the same meal. The range of vegan proteins (and the amino acids within) are so varied that veggie-eaters only need to eat a wide variety of foods each day to ensure that they’re getting all amino acids. Vegetarians in Schools How does this all translate to the school cafeteria, a land where barbecue chicken, hamburgers and pepperoni pizza reign supreme? It’s truthfully easier than you might think to incorporate vegetarian proteins into many favorite school meals, even perhaps swaying some omnivores to occasionally select a plant-based option. For example, a bean burrito is just as flavorful as one made with beef or chicken. Veggie burgers have been gaining in flavor—and in acceptance. Adding tofu, edamame, beans or lentils to the salad bar adds options for a meat-free leafy lunch. And that pizza? Well, of course, cheese pizza is just as popular—if not more—than pepperoni. Add some vegetables on top for a boost of nutrients, and it’s not only vegetarian and nutritious—it’s also delicious. A vegetarian diet can be as rich in protein as any omnivore meal plan. Monterey Jack Quesadilla With Beans & Quinoa 2 lbs. White quinoa 16 cups Black beans, canned, drained 4 lbs. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded 8 cups Salsa verde, low-sodium ½ cup Ground cumin 64 each Whole-wheat tortillas, 8-in. SERVINGS 64 PER SERVING 353 cal., 13 g fat, 43 g carb., 8 fiber, 18 g pro., 351 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 1.75-oz.-eq. grains ¼ cup vegetable–legume ¼ cup vegetable–other 1-oz.-eq. meat/meat alt. 1) Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Drain off any excess liquid and cool under refrigeration. 2) In a large bowl or mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the beans, cheese, salsa, cumin and cooled quinoa. Mix thoroughly. 3) Using a #8 disher, scoop the filling onto the bottom half of the tortilla. Spread the filling out over the tortilla to ½" from the edge. 4) Fold the tortilla over and press to seal. Place the quesadillas on parchment-lined sheet pans, 12 per tray, with edges slightly overlapping. 5) Wrap the sheet pans and store under refrigeration until they are ready to cook. 6) Heat in a 350°F oven until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (5 to 10 minutes). *Notes: InHarvest White Quinoa can be used for this recipe. USDA Foods salsa can be substituted for the salsa verde. Recipe: InHarvest, http://www.inharvest.com Photo: Rob Yuretich, for InHarvest Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, http://www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com Kitchen Wisdom • We had success baking the quesadillas, as long as we used spray oil on the tortilla and flipped them halfway through baking to crisp the tortilla in the oven. • This is a nice way to introduce quinoa using a familiar food. • I think it needs more spice. Using red quinoa would give it an appearance more like beef, and a jalapeno and red onion or cilantro would add flavor. • We haven’t had good student acceptance of black beans, so [to improve student acceptability] we would switch to pinto beans, which our students are more familiar with. • It’s an overall good concept; students like quesadillas. But our students didn’t care for the quinoa, so I would remove that from the recipe. • It’s a little time-consuming just for preparation, but overall, not too involved. Batch-cooking is important. Protein-Packed Veggie Salad 20 Hard-boiled eggs 1 lb. Great Northern beans, low-sodium, drained 2 lbs. Thin green beans 2 lbs., 4 ozs. Red skin potatoes 2 lbs. Fresh tomatoes, cut in wedges 2 lbs. Romaine lettuce, chopped 8 ozs. Prepared herb vinaigrette 20 ozs. Prepared herb vinaigrette, divided into 1-oz. servings SERVINGS 20 (8.7 ozs. Salad, 1 oz. dressing) PER SERVING 300 cal., 17 g fat, 13 g pro., 26 g carb., 5 g fiber, 150 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 2.25-oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate, ¼ cup vegetables (dark green), ¼ cup vegetables (other), ¼ cup vegetables (red/orange), ¼ cup starchy vegetables 1) Steam the Great Northern beans lightly. Place in a shallow food storage container. Cover, date stamp and place in cooler overnight to chill; hold below 41° F. 2) In a food storage container, combine the green beans and 8 ozs. herb vinaigrette. Cover, date stamp and place in a cooler overnight to chill, holding below 41°F. 3) Scrub the red skin potatoes. Cut into a large dice. Steam them lightly, leaving them still firm. Place in a shallow food storage container. Cover, date stamp and place in a cooler overnight to chill, holding below 41°F. 4) Day of service: Slice the tomatoes in ½-in. wedges. Place in a shallow food storage container, and set aside. 5) Cut each egg into four wedges. Lay on parchment-covered sheet pans and set aside. 6) Using a 4-oz. spoodle, place a ½ cup (1.6 ozs.) of romaine in a shallow salad bowl. On the left side of the bowl, on top of the lettuce, lay out four egg wedges per salad. Next to the eggs, lay out ¼ cup (1.6 ozs.) of green beans. Next, add ¼ cup (1.8 ozs.) chopped red potatoes. Place ¼ cup seasoned white beans next to the potatoes, using a #16 scoop. Add four tomato wedges. 7) Serve with 1 oz. prepared herb vinaigrette. Recipe and Photo: American Egg Board, http://www.aeb.org Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, http://www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com Kitchen Wisdom • Dry the lettuce completely to prevent the dressing from getting watered down. • Use grape tomatoes instead of cutting wedges to make production easier. • Consider adding cheese cubes or shredded cheese to replace a portion of the beans. • In our district, the older students liked it better than the younger ones. • It might be a good idea to add garbanzo beans or black beans. • I might switch dressings, depending on [the age or preferences of the students who were] going to eat it. CREDITING TOFU PROPERLY Recent changes to nutrition standards for school meals now means that tofu is creditable as a meat alternate. However, doing so is not as cut-and-dry as crediting animal-based proteins. One-fourth cup (2.2 ounces) of a commercially prepared tofu that contains at least 5 grams of protein is creditable as a 1-oz-eq. meat alternate. This is true for processed tofu products, such as sausage made from tofu, as well. There’s a caveat, however. Products or recipes made with tofu that is not easily recognized as such (if, for example, silken tofu is blended into a soup) are not creditable. USDA has deemed that schools must serve meals in which the ingredients are “easily recognizable by students as food.” Recipes published in School Nutrition have not been tested by the magazine or SNA in a school foodservice setting, except for certain “Kitchen Wisdom” selections, which are evaluated by a volunteer pool of operators. When available, nutrient analyses are provided by the recipe source. Required ingredients, preparation steps and nutrient content make some recipes more appropriate for catering applications or adult meals. Readers are encouraged to test recipes and calculate their own nutrition analyses, meal patterns and HACCP steps. Kelsey Casselbury is a contributing editor for School Nutrition and a former managing editor of the publication. She is based in Odenton, Md. BONUS WEB CONTENT More Recipes Online Get recipes for Spicy Eggplant & Tofu Stir-fry and Black Bean and Sweet Potato Lettuce wraps. Visit http://www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access.
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