Having trouble working protein into your diet? Filling up on this energy-boosting, lean-muscle building nutrient is definitely important, but getting enough of it doesn’t only have to involve dairy, eggs, and meat. Staples like quinoa, lentils, canned fish, and more are packed with protein, and work well in a variety of dishes from salads to oatmeal. Plus they’re super affordable, incredibly easy to store, and will last for a really long time. Keep in mind these are great staples to keep in your pantry in general.
So let’s stock that pantry. These seven need-to-have ingredients—and a handful of recipe suggestions from registered dietitians—will ensure you always get your protein fill.
1. Nuts & Nut Butters
Most nuts are a great source of protein, but Maxine Yeung, M.S., R.D., owner of The Wellness Whisk, prefers to keep almonds on hand because of their versatility. “You can eat them alone, add to your oatmeal or cereal for breakfast, toss them into salads, or chop them up and add to a roasted veggie dish for some texture,” she explains. In addition to having 20 grams of protein per one cup, they’re also full of, “healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins such as calcium,” she says.
Not a fan of almonds? Don’t sweat it—Kate Geagan, M.S., R.D.N., also recommends walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts. Opt for nut butters if you’re looking for the same flavor, but a creamier texture.
“Having a can or two of beans in the pantry can be a life saver,” says Yeung. She explains that half a cup of most bean varieties (black beans and chickpeas, to name a couple) can have up to seven to eight grams of protein, and—similar to almonds—they have an extremely versatile flavor profile. She likes to add them to soups, pastas, and dips. “I’ll take some white beans and purée them with garlic, lemon juice, and fresh herbs and spices,” she says.
This popular pulse may take a while to cook, but is so worth keeping in your kitchen. Jessica Levinson, R.D.N., explains that, “They add a nice meaty, umami flavor to meals and can be used in vegetarian tacos and in place of meat in a bolognese sauce.” Oh, and just one cup has 18 grams of protein. Yes please!
4. Garbanzo Bean Flour
Also known as chickpea flour, Geagan likes to use this gluten-free baking alternative in sweet and savory dishes. “I swap out [white] flour for these more protein- and nutrient-rich flours when baking, making pancakes and cookies, or making falafel to top my salad for lunch.”
One cup is packed with 21 grams of protein, so this is a really simple way to kick up foods that don’t normally have a lot of protein—like pancakes or cookies, as Geagan points out.
5. Amaranth & Quinoa
Amaranth, though a little less widely known, is just as tasty and protein-packed. It has a slightly nuttier flavor and crunchier texture than quinoa, but works well as a rice alternative, too.
6. Canned Fish
Fish is a well-known high-protein player, but canned fish can tend to get left by the wayside. This old school favorite deserves to end up in more than just the occasional tuna sandwich, because it’s incredibly affordable and easy to store for a really long time. Geagan likes to add sardines (which have 37 grams of protein per one cup) or wild Alaskan salmon to Mediterranean-inspired salads that are a mix of, “cannellini beans, chopped tomatoes, and cucumbers.”
7. Chia Seeds
This trendy superfood is popular for a reason: It’s high in protein (4 grams for every ounce) and is also a great source of healthy fats and fiber. Brittany Kohn, M.S., R.D., recommends adding them to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal. You can also turn the super seeds into a delicious pudding or bake them into a loaf of bread.