Upon making the choice to go vegan, the first thing friends and family asked me was, How will you get your protein? When people think protein, they think of meat, like a fat, juicy steak or a pork chop rubbed down with barbecue spices. Im not one of those people, however. As a vegan, my diet is meat-free which means I have to look for other ways to get protein that dont involve firing up the grill.

While this might sound like a challenge, once you know what non-meat food sources are high in protein, it is fairly easy to create a vegan menu that provides as much protein as traditional fare. Believe it or not, there are a lot of plant-based proteins that allow you to achieve the recommended daily allowance. These vegetables and other non-meat protein sources are things commonly found in the produce section of your grocery store, and can help you create high protein vegan meals without drastically changing how you shop.

Health Benefits of Non-Meat Protein in Your Vegan Lunch

Restricting meat in your diet is more than a lifestyle choice, but for many it can also be a health choice. These foods offer different vitamins and minerals than meats, and therefore have a different effect on your health. By restricting meat from my diet, including with vegan lunches, Ive been able to lower my cholesterol and high blood pressure. Unlike meat, plant-based protein is also a high source of fiber.

Whether youre going vegan or just trying to add some variety to your diet, replacing meats with plant-based protein in your meals can help the environment. Plants use up less of the Earth resources than animals do, and lower the amount of chemicals and pesticides required to grow. This increases the sustainability of the worlds food production, and is the first step in making a positive impact on the environment.

Vegan Lunch Items that Are High in Protein

During the workweek, lunch provides a golden opportunity to add non-meat protein to your diet. I often make my own lunch to save from the high cost of eating in restaurants. Making my own lunch also means that I know what ingredients are going into the foods that I will eat for that meal. Because I researched the food while shopping for it, unlike ordering from a paper menu, I know that all the ingredients fall into the vegan category. Here are five of my favorite high-protein vegan lunches.

  • Portobello Burger with Almond Cheese Quell those cravings for a quarter-pounder smothered in melted cheddar with a Portobello patty drenched in delicious almond cheese. I like to season the mushroom cap with olive oil and freshly minced garlic, and top it with fresh basil leaves, Roma tomato and crisp lettuce. Then I splash on a little balsamic vinegar for an extra kick of flavor.
  • Corn Chips with Vegan Chili There are a surprising amount of brand name tortilla chips that fall into the category of vegan food. You can refer to PETAs list (http://www.peta.org/living/food/accidentally-vegan/) for some good ideas. Top the chips with leftover vegan chili from last nights dinner for a lunch thats much healthier than what youd find at your local fast food taco shop.
  • Loaded Baked Sweet Potato Bake a sweet potato like you would a white baking potato. When its done, split the top and mash the inside a bit, without splitting the sides or bottom of the skin. Top with any vegan toppings that youd put on a traditional loaded bake potato, including black beans, shredded arugula or kale, and dairy-free cheddar cheese.
  • Personal-Sized Supreme Pita Pizza This is one of my favorites. Top a vegan pita with sliced Roma tomatoes, oregano and basil leaves, black beans, onions, olives, mushrooms, and any other vegan toppings that youd find on a traditional pizza. Using fresh ingredients will ensure a more flavorful lunch. Top with dairy-free mozzarella or crumbled tofu.
  • Spicy Avocado Wrap Forget the foot long sandwich at your local sub shop. Not only are they often loaded with processed deli meats, but even their non-meat ingredients could fall into non-vegan food categories. Get your protein in the form of this delicious wrap instead. Just load your favorite vegan flat bread with chunks of avocado, baby spinach leaves, cashews, and freshly sliced jalapenos.

These are just a few vegan lunch items that feature plant-based protein. As you can see, it is fairly easy to take traditional recipes and swap out meat for high protein vegan ingredients. If you decide to eliminate meat from your diet, be sure to talk to your family doctor about what vitamin supplement you will need to make up for the nutrients like B12 and iron that are commonly found in meat-based ingredients, as well as amino acids that plant-based proteins lack. Combining a vitamin supplement with a wide variety of plant foods during each day will give your body all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.