There is no uniform approach to nutrition and health.  March is National Nutrition Month®, hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and this year’s theme is “Personalize Your Plate.” At Common Threads, we equip families with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn, and play. Join us as we explore new and exciting ways to incorporate nutritious foods from each food group, as well as resources to embrace healthy cooking, healthy eating and celebration of culture.

This week we will explore sources of protein, including nutrition and health considerations, cooking methods, and ways to personalize your plate with proteins. 

It is important that protein is included in our diet every day. Protein helps our muscles grow and repair as well as provides essential amino acids, iron, and vitamin B that our body needs to function. When it comes to protein sources, it can come from animals or plants and both can be healthy ways to include protein in your diet. Some protein sources like fish, nuts, and vegetables also provide healthy fats that are essential and have roles in brain and heart function.

Animal-based Protein

Sources of animal-based protein include meat, poultry, and seafood. When selecting animal based proteins, choose lean sources including chicken, turkey, fish and lean cuts of beef and pork. 

In addition to choosing lean sources of protein, preparing them using lean cooking methods adds flavors and provides the health benefits of protein as well as vitamins and minerals without the addition of added fats and sodium. Healthy cooking methods include baking, broiling, braising, grilling, steaming, sautéing,  stir frying and roasting. Personalize your proteins by checking out some of our favorite animal based recipes on Common Bytes!

  • Turkey Mini Meatloaves (Turkey, baked): mini meatloaves made with turkey, shredded carrots, and hot sauce for a flavorful spicy kick 
  • DIY Fajitas (chicken, sautéed): chicken or sirloin marinated in fajita seasoning and lime juice and sautéed with bell peppers and onions; served in corn tortillas. 
  • Orange and Honey glazed pork chops (pork, broiled): sweet glazed pork chops with an orange twist broiled 
  • Stir fry/(chicken, stir frying): a mix of vegetables, chicken and brown rice sautéed in a flavorful sauce;  Stir fry is a Chinese cooking technique to quickly cook vegetables and meat by constantly stirring them in a very hot wok or sauté pan. You can use oil (oils suitable for high heat such as – can we list a few here?) or no oil.
  • Haitian Jou Mou (beef, braise):flavorful stew that incorporates beef, carrots, squash, onions, potatoes, and cabbage.

Plant-based Protein

Sources of plant-based protein include beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Proteins are made up of amino acids, nine of which are considered essential, meaning our bodies can not make them and thus it is essential to consume foods containing them. 

Animal based proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, while plant based proteins often do not contain all nine essential amino acids. There are plant based sources of proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids: quinoa and soy; however, you can easily combine plant based proteins to create “complete” proteins. The combination of rice and beans is an example. Mixing and matching plant based proteins will ensure optimal nutritional and health benefits. Those who follow a completely vegetarian or vegan diet may want to consult a doctor or dietitian to make sure they are getting enough of certain nutrients. 

There are many health benefits to eating plant-based protein- These foods are high in fiber and healthy fats, low in saturated fats, and packed with antioxidants. Plant-based proteins are also budget friendly shelf stable pantry items. Personalize your proteins by checking out some of our favorite plant based recipes on Common Bytes!

  • Cuban Rice and Beans: a hearty mix of rice, beans, and vegetables seasoned with traditional Cuban flavors
  • Southwestern Lentils: cooked lentils prepared with traditional southwestern ingredients, such as onions, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, red pepper, and chili powder
  • Baked Tofu: golden brown baked tofu tossed in cooking sauce or plain as is
  • Chickpea Mushroom Pita: a flavorful chickpea mushroom patty paired with fresh herbs and spices stuffed in a pita perfect for a filling and delicious lunch
  • Tabbouleh: traditional Lebanese salad made with parsley, tomatoes, and mint. This fresh and delicious salad is classically made with bulgur, but our recipe uses quinoa for a ‘complete’ protein rich side.

Plant-based eating is not all or nothing! Reasons vary for following a vegetarian eating pattern or a plant forward eating pattern but may include health & environmental benefits, animal welfare, cost, access and availability. 

Vegetarian Eating Patterns

Vegetarian eating patterns differ but may fall into one of several categories. Protein sources are primarily from plant-based sources but also may come from animal based sources such as dairy and eggs.  See below for common classifications of vegetarian eating patterns and which animal based proteins are omitted. 

Many individuals may not adhere to one of these eating patterns but may follow a mostly plant based diet also known as plant forward eating, which is  consuming meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish infrequently or in small amounts. 

Personalize your proteins by checking out some of our favorite plant forward recipes on Common Bytes!

  • Lacto-Ovo: Cauliflower Hash. This flavorful garlic cauliflower hash is perfect as a base for cheese and eggs 
  • Ovo: Tunisian Shakshuka. A flavorful Tunisian dish consisting of tomatoes, onions, pepper, spices, and poached eggs.
  • Lacto: Vegetarian Chili. A hearty chili made with tomatoes, corn, kidney beans, onions, and chili powder; topped with cheddar cheese and plain Greek yogurt
  • Pescatarian: Roasted Salmon with Citrus.Roasted salmon flavored with oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chopped herbs
  • Vegan: Mediterranean Grilled Vegetable Tagine with Chickpeas.A colorful entree of mixed vegetables and chickpeas, seasoned with mediterranean spices. Pair with Whole Wheat Israeli Couscous.
Ashley Roth is the partner engagement manager and Registered Dietitian for Common Threads, a nonprofit organization that provides cooking and nutrition education for children and families in 12 markets across the country. Based in Richmond, Va., Ashley has been a member of the Common Threads team since 2016 and has helped the organization develop its curriculum and educational content to be a resource for children, families and educators across the country. Before joining Common Threads, she was a clinical research coordinator for Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. She has also worked as a registered dietitian consultant for Alexandria City Public Schools and a research and teaching assistant at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 

ABOUT COMMON THREADS

Common Threads is a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. We equip under-resourced communities with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn, and play. We know that food is rooted in culture and tradition so we promote diversity in our lessons and recipes, encouraging our participants to celebrate the world around them.