Whether or not you track food or count macros, it’s no secret getting adequate protein is key to satisfying meals and overall health. You’ve also likely heard it’s important to include it at every meal — skimping on protein all day long and then capping things off with a giant piece of meat for dinner isn’t going to have the same benefit as getting adequate (but not excessive) protein with every meal and snack.
And, it turns out, it’s especially important to eat enough protein in the morning. “Eating a protein-packed breakfast will not only leave you feeling satisfied with the morning meal; research suggests it may also help keep hunger at bay throughout the day,“ says Marisa Moore, RDN.
So, just how much protein should you be aiming for at breakfast? “Protein needs vary by person — your height, weight, types and frequency of physical activity and health status can all affect protein needs,” says Moore. A general guideline is that healthy, sedentary adults should aim for 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day, and active individuals, pregnant or breastfeeding women and dieters likely need more. Overall, each meal should include at least 15 grams of protein and most should include 20–30 grams.
Breakfast can be the most challenging meal when it comes to sneaking in enough protein. Eggs are an easy option, but to help make sure your morning meal is packing enough protein to keep you satisfied and on track with your goals, here are eight easy ways to sneak more protein into breakfast:
Yes, smoothies are a great way to sneak veggies in before noon, but they’re also such an easy vehicle for protein. As long as you can tolerate dairy, there’s no reason not add Greek yogurt or cottage cheese to your morning blend; both thicken the smoothie and make it creamy, and the plain, unsweetened versions won’t add any unnecessary sugar.
Nonfat Greek yogurt adds a little bit of tang to fruity green smoothies, and a 6-ounce serving packs about 17 grams of protein and 100 calories. Nonfat cottage cheese makes berry-based smoothies taste like cheesecake and has about 20 grams of protein and 120 calories per 6 ounces.
“Greek yogurt and cottage cheese pack a hefty protein punch and pair well with fruit, but they also work with savory ingredients like pesto,” says Moore. A bowl of yogurt with fruit, nuts and granola is a no-brainer and a great choice. For a no-cook breakfast that’s a little more fun and unexpected, try serving leftover roasted veggies over Greek yogurt with a dollop of pesto or topping cottage cheese with chopped heirloom tomatoes, basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
While stovetop or microwave oats contain plenty of healthy carbs and fiber, they’re often lacking in the protein department, since they’re often made with water or a little bit of milk. Overnight oats, on the other hand, are usually made with Greek yogurt, which gives the mixture its pudding-like consistency that’s so darn satisfying.
This simple, yogurt-based overnight oat recipe packs 18 grams of protein per serving and is easy to customize by switching out different fruits, nuts, seeds and sweeteners. And, these spiced apple overnight oats have 21 grams of protein, plus healthy fats from almond butter and walnuts.
Not everyone loves the taste or the idea of protein powder, but if you’ve found one you like, it’s the perfect way to add protein to oats and smoothies without any real effort. The trick is to pair it with super flavorful ingredients, so there’s not a distinct protein powder flavor in every bite (or sip).
For anyone craving an extra dose of caffeine in their breakfast, these coffee-infused overnight oats pack an impressive 21 grams of protein, and the coffee flavor really sings. Smoothies with flavor-packed ingredients like pineapple, coconut or cocoa are great candidates for a scoop of protein powder.
If you swear by a bowl of warm oatmeal over a cute jar of overnight oats, here’s a little trick: Cook your stovetop oatmeal just as you normally would, then remove it from the heat and stir in 1/3 cup egg whites for every 1/2 cup oats. Once the egg whites are incorporated, put everything back on low heat and stir constantly (so that the eggs don’t scramble) until the mixture is thick. The egg whites add a fluffy texture but won’t change the flavor.
Here’s a banana and blueberry egg white oatmeal recipe to get you started.
Whether you’re vegan or just looking to shake up your usual breakfast rotation, scrambled tofu is an awesome egg substitute with a similar consistency. Add veggies just as you would to scrambled eggs and swap cheese for a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, which packs umami flavor and some protein for a fraction of the calories of classic egg add-ins like Parmesan or cheddar.
This golden tofu scramble gets extra flavor from turmeric and has an impressive 20 grams of protein per serving.
“Egg muffins packed with broccoli or other vegetables are a quick heat-and-eat breakfast,” says Moore. Basically mini frittatas, you can make egg muffins by mixing beaten eggs or egg whites with add-ins like veggies, cheese, cooked meat, quinoa and herbs, then pouring the mixture into a muffin tin and baking for 20 minutes at 375°F (191ºC).
Cooked egg muffins keep in your fridge for up to four days and there are so many possible flavor combinations that you’ll likely never get sick of them. The best part is they taste great reheated or cold, so you really can just grab a few and rush out the door in the morning.
Make a batch of these baked veggie egg cups during next week’s meal prep, and you won’t worry about breakfast for days.
Eggs, bacon, toast, oatmeal, yogurt bowls, pancakes, pastries and smoothies are what typically come to mind when we think of breakfast, but there’s no rule that says you have to stick to these things.
“If you’re eating in the morning, remember that it doesn’t have to be ‘breakfast food,’” says Moore. “You can eat leftover fish or chicken with vegetables for breakfast if you want!” Who’s going to stop you? The police?”
The idea of dinner leftovers, a chicken-topped salad or a turkey sandwich for breakfast might not be appetizing to everybody, but if it sounds good to you, go for it. Meat is the most obvious protein source out there, and there’s no reason it can’t have a place in your morning routine.