Quick Proteins

I did something that might not be so smart. I signed up for (and convinced Brooks to sign up for) Frankenthon Marathon, a laid back, small town, frankenstein-themed marathon outside of Austin on October 24th.

Wait, I thought this blog was about nutrition…? JK, it is. Bear with me.

You may ask yourself, “why is this such a bad idea?” to which I respond, I live in Texas. Back home, October is primetime for marathons. The New England summer is a magical place (complete with magical sandwiches), but the Texas summer can be oppressive. I’ve lived through New Orleans heat, but never ran more than a handful of miles in the true summer – probably just a couple runs in the low double digits. The traditional 18-week marathon training program puts our heavy training weeks smack dab in the middle of August and September, when average highs in Houston reach the mid-90s and (being in the Gulf South), it’s guaranteed to be extra soupy, making temps feel in the triple digits most days.

If you’ve ever increased your activity, be it through training for a long distance race, adding strength training (which EVERYONE SHOULD DO!!!!) or starting a physical job, you know the true hanger that comes along with it. For the most part, the starch and vegetable components of meals are easy to make really quick, but proteins can be trickier. Some people like protein powders and bars, but I personally would much prefer to eat actual foods rather than isolated food components.

It’s not all about me: I constantly have patients who struggle to find quick and healthy options for dinner when they’ve got to go to work, sit in traffic, pick up kids, drive them around to games/practices/etc…who has time to prep and cook a pork tenderloin for 1 hour and 45 minutes?? So I’ve compiled a handy dandy list for you of proteins that can be whipped up to feed the beast, whether the beast is your ravenous children after a day at summer camp or me after a long run!

shrimp and grits

Today’s quick post-run shrimp brunch. Giving new meaning to “Gone in Sixty Seconds”.

Lauren’s Favorite Quick Proteins

In no particular order

Rotisserie Chicken – I realize for those of you that don’t live a mile or less from a grocery store or pass one on the drive home, this one requires some foresight. I apologize, I’ve gotten used to city living. However, rotisserie chicken is an excellent option and freaking delicious. I have fond memories of my parents bringing home Boston Market for dinner and always being SO pumped (it may have been more for the cornbread/cinnamon apples combo than the meat, but everybody’s got a weakness). And while it’s not actually rotisserie, KFC’s Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast is a much better option than fast food fried chicken.

Eggs – Yeah, yeah, I know about avian influenza. Even though egg prices are on the rise they are still way cheaper than meat and still just as delicious as ever. Plus, this whole thing will blow over. Double plus, it’s the perfect opportunity to acquaint yourself with small local farms who are unaffected but whose prices are now more competitive with the grocery store. Anyway, eggs can be prepared in so many ways – over easy with toast, shakshuka’d – cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, scrambled or omelette-d and stuffed with vegetables, made into a quiche or frittata, or if you’re extra tight on time made ahead into individual frittatas, frozen, and popped in the microwave. I would be lying if I said eggs weren’t at least 40% of my dinners through school.

Chicken Sausages Al Fresco is a classic, but Aidell’s, HEB brand, Sprouts brand (which taste strangely like hot dogs), and Applegate have all made appearances on our kitchen table. These packaged precooked sausages require NO COOKING if you’re in a pinch (also great for work lunches). I’m down with cold chicken sausage if it’s in a salad, but they can also be grilled, microwaved, cooked in a skillet, tossed into pasta dishes, etc. They really are delicious, and unlike the super awesome artisan (raw) chicken sausages at the meat counter, you don’t have to worry about cooking them through to prevent salmonella! If you’re someone that needs to watch sodium though, be mindful – these are NOT a low sodium option.

Frozen Shrimp – While the Gulf may suck for summer weather, it’s the bomb for summer shrimp. Seriously, so inexpensive. We have keep a bag of shrimp in the freezer for nights when we are in a pinch and have used them for everything from spaghetti squash with cherry tomatoes and pesto shrimp to lightened-up New Orleans style BBQ shrimp and grits (PICTURED, made with my favorite seasoning, NOT according to package directions). Thawing under running cold water takes longer than the actual cooking process, but all together it’s never more than 20 minutes. Shrimp are high in protein but super low in fat, which makes them an especially wonderful choice.

Frozen Chicken Breast – Frozen chicken breast can be cooked straight from the freezer. Just season with marinara sauce, bbq sauce, pesto, or a dried seasoning and follow these directions. Perfect every time. Make sure that the frozen breasts you’re using are frozen individually and not stuck together or folded. I find that most are good, and Trader Joes brand is always perfect.

Canned Beans – Quick vegan protein, just rinse off to remove extra sodium and serve! Add to salads, use in soups and stews, throw in a quick sauce, turn into tacos by sauteing with onion, cilantro, cumin, and salsa, make into patties, whatever. People don’t eat enough beans, they’re one of the most healthy things out there and simply underutilized!

Meatless Burgers – Veggie burgers are a great alternative to high saturated fat beef burgers, don’t require the time and effort of forming patties, and again can be kept in the freezer for a quick meal in a pinch. Many meatless burgers have less protein than you’d assume, so read this article to see Molly Kimball’s recommendations for some that will pack in the protein.

Canned Tuna – Easy and delicious. Admittedly I’m not adventurous when it comes to canned tuna, but mixing it with red wine vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and maybe adding some chopped cucumber or bell pepper is a fresh take on traditional mayonnaise-heavy tuna salad. I have a bit of a fear of mayonnaise (why does it move like that…ughhh) and prefer this method, or substituting Greek yogurt or mashed avocado.

Tofu – Tofu is often overlooked by those of us who eat meat, but it’s got tons of protein, is a non-dairy source of calcium, and is extremely versatile. And, unlike meat, you don’t have to worry about reaching any certain internal temperature for the sake of food safety. Use it in place of eggs in a tofu scramble, bake it into tofu fries (a personal favorite!), or in a regular old stir fry to get started. Once you’ve fallen for this perfect plant protein, get fancy with it.

Deli Meat – We almost always have Boar’s Head roasted chicken in the refrigerator. A quality meat like this doesn’t have a bunch of preservatives and extra ingredients to keep it shelf stable and easily sliceable is a healthy option. It has more sodium than if you were to grill a chicken breast yourself, but it’s not outrageously high in sodium and saturated fat like many “man-made” deli meats like many hams, and all bolognas, wursts, and loafs. Roast beef can actually be a great option, which I find many people are surprised by.

Greek Yogurt – Greek yogurt has a total cult following, and for good reason. It’s a natural product that is the same thing as regular yogurt, but with more of the liquid strained out. This means that even fat free versions have a creamier more indulgent texture than regular yogurt. Watch out for highly sugared yogurts, Chobani Simply 100 uses less sugar and other natural sweeteners to eliminate the large number of calories from added sugars that can be found in many of these products. I really like the key lime, but some flavors and some other brands of 100 calorie Greek yogurts can taste reeeeallly artificially flavored and disgusting. My favorite way to do it is to get a big tub of plain nonfat Greek yogurt so that I can cook savory dishes with it and also sweeten it with fruit myself if I so desire. Plain Greek + ripe peach + sprinkle of cinnamon + slivered almonds + drizzle of honey = YES PLEASE! Straight out of the container’s not so bad either… 🙂

Leftovers – I have come across some people who simply refuse to eat leftovers, and I just want to let them all know: you’re doing it wrong. Purposely cooking extra portions and saving those for the following dinner (or lunch) because you know you’ll be tight on time is the #1 thing you can do to make sure you have a delicious healthy meal ready for you upon your arrival home. I’ll probably write a post or two about repurposing leftovers so that you’re not eating the same exact thing every single day, but for a quick Texan tip anything can become a taco.

Hopefully this helps you the next time you walk into the house and NEED dinner within 20 minutes. Until next time, I’ll be outside sweating. Cheers!

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11 responses to “Quick Proteins

  1. Pingback: Electrolytes without the extra pounds | How to Eat, R.D.·

  2. Lauren,
    Being a 99.99% vegetarian (occasional seafood), I totally rely on Tofu, beans, Eggs and Greek Yogurt (just plain/non fat, Fage Yougurt) for my protein. I have to try the protein-enriched veggie burgers – I usually shy away from those, as some of them are loaded with sodium. Of late, been eating the Quinoa and Kale burger, which isn’t too bad. Shrimp : Should I be concerned about the cholesterol (I have healthy lipid levels – so every once in while, it shouldn’t really hurt?)

    //Subbu

    PS : I just learnt of this blog, which is really informative! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the world!

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    • I’m so glad you like it 🙂 Shrimp is totally fine! Contrary to popular belief, eating cholesterol does not raise your cholesterol – it’s dietary saturated fat that has that effect, and shrimp contains none of that. It sounds like you’ve got all the richest sources of vegetarian proteins in there. The only times I’ve run into trouble with patients are when they’re vegetarian but also won’t eat soy, dairy, or eggs.

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  3. I went to the grocery store and picked up Morningstar Grillers Original burger (recommended by the article to which you have a link above) and had it for lunch. It was pretty good actually. 3:1 ratio of Protein:Carbs FTW!! Thanks for the link!
    //Subbu

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    • String cheese is one of my FAVORITE snacks, it’s portable, portion-controlled, provides calcium and a good amount of protein. The proteins in dairy are particularly good at stimulating muscle growth. Cottage cheese provides the same benefits.

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  4. Pingback: Plant-based proteins | How to Eat, R.D.·

  5. Pingback: Why I don’t “meal prep” and how I live to tell the tale | How to Eat, R.D.·

  6. Pingback: Hey, did you know that you can cook a frozen chicken breast? | How to Eat, R.D.·

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