Six protein staples for quick & healthy meals

February 5, 2023 in Leslie's Featured Content

Six protein staples for quick & healthy meals

As part of a well-rounded meal, protein helps suppress your appetite and it may even aid weight loss. Besides curbing hunger, research suggests eating higher protein meals can improve the body’s ability to burn fat. 

Plus, getting enough protein helps maintain strong muscles, a powerful immune system and healthy hair and nails.

Bored of chicken breast and tuna? The following seven nutrient-filled and protein-packed foods are go-to staples that can add variety to your menu.

But don't stop at dinner. Many are versatile enough they can also be made into healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks.


These fresh green soybeans are among the few plant foods that deliver complete protein (e.g. an adequate amount of all nine essential amino acids – the building blocks of protein – our body can’t make on its own.) Along with 16 grams of protein, a ¾ cup serving of shelled edamame packs in 8 g of fibre and a hefty amount of calcium (100 mg), magnesium (100 mg) and potassium (676 mg), minerals that help control blood pressure.

You’ll find precooked edamame shelled or in pods in the frozen food section of the grocery store. For an easy protein fix, add frozen shelled edamame to a stir-fry or soup near the end of cooking.  Top a green salad or brown rice bowl with cooked edamame beans (hot or cold). Steamed edamame (in pods) are also a tasty snack.

Canned sardines

Not only are sardines packed with protein (21 g per three ounces), they’re also an excellent source of DHA and EPA, heart- and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines also serve up considerable calcium (if they’re not boneless), vitamin D, potassium and selenium, a mineral critical for making thyroid hormones.

Use drained sardines in salads (they pair especially well with Greek salad), pastas and omelets. Enjoy whole grain crackers or toast topped with mashed sardines, thinly sliced onion and a dash of hot sauce.  Or, try sardines on individual endive leaves with a squeeze of lemon juice.


These crunchy nuts deliver protein, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper and plant sterols, natural compounds that have cholesterol-lowering properties.  While cashews are high in fat – just like all nuts – 55 per cent of their fat comes from heart healthy monounsaturated fat.

Add cashews into an Asian-inspired vegetable stir-fry and serve over quinoa, brown rice or rice noodles. Toss cashews into a green salad or whole grain pilaf.  Boost protein at breakfast by mixing chopped cashews into granola or sprinkling over oatmeal.


Made by fermenting cooked whole soybeans, tempeh is more easily digestible and contains more protein, fibre and vitamins than tofu. Three ounces provides 16 g of protein and 7 g of fibre and is also a decent source of calcium, magnesium, iron and B vitamins.

Tempeh’s firm texture and hearty flavor make it a good substitute for meat in many recipes. Many brands of tempeh also add whole grains (e.g. wild rice, brown rice, millet), vegetables and seasonings.

Add cubed tempeh to soups, stews, curries and vegetable stir-fries. Replace ground meat with crumbled tempeh in taco, chili and pasta recipes.  Grill thin slices of marinated tempeh and serve as a sandwich.

Black beans

These small beans are true multi-taskers.  One ¾ cup serving of black beans offers 11.5 g of protein, 30 g of low glycemic carbohydrate, 11 g of fibre and plenty of magnesium, potassium and folate.  And thanks to their deep hue, black beans have three times more phytochemicals than white kidney beans or navy beans.

Canned black beans are so easy to add to meals because they are already cooked. Drain and rinse them before using to remove excess sodium and gas-producing carbohydrates.

Use black beans in tacos, burritos, salads and chili.  Make taco pizzas on whole grain tortillas with salsa, grated cheese, chopped green peppers and onion and black beans. Round out a homemade or store-bought vegetable soup by adding black beans.

Ricotta cheese

Light ricotta cheese (5% milk fat) is a healthier alternative to cream cheese due to its higher protein and calcium content. (It’s also lower in calories.)  One-half cup serving has 12 g of protein – the amount found in two large eggs – and half a dairy serving worth of calcium (165 mg).

Stir light ricotta into marinara sauce for a quick pasta dish.  Instead of cream cheese, spread ricotta on whole grain toast and top with sliced tomatoes or sliced strawberries (a tasty breakfast too).  Top a bed of salad greens with a few dollops of ricotta then drizzle with olive oil and season with herbs. 

Or, stuff tomatoes with ricotta (mix with chopped chives), drizzle with olive oil and bake until heated through.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.