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Adding an extra kick of plant-based protein to your pasta and noodle dishes helps make your meal that much more satisfying. Try one of these easy and delicious ideas the next time you're cooking.

Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD
March 30, 2021
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There aren't many dishes that are as satisfying as a warm bowl of pasta. From spaghetti to rigatoni to even old-school macaroni and cheese, this comfort food is something that many people enjoy on busy weeknights and decadent date nights alike. But while pasta can be an utterly craveable dish that is loved by many, certain preparations can be low in the protein department, which may not leave you completely satisfied in the long run.

Why? While most pastas are loaded with carbohydrates, a key nutrient to give your body energy, they can be lower in protein—a nutrient that helps you feel more satisfied and gives a dish some staying power. We need on average around 50 grams of protein per day. Your first thought may be to meet your protein needs by eating foods like steak, chicken and eggs, but it's entirely possible to eat enough of this key macronutrient by leaning on certain plant-based options too.

Topping your pasta with plant-based sources of protein can not only give your dish an extra boost of this important nutrient but also, depending on the choice, it can level up your noodles with additional antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Walnuts

Chicken & Vegetable Penne with Parsley-Walnut Pesto

Not only are walnuts a source of plant-based protein, but they also fuel your body with other important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants. Adding walnuts to pasta sauce recipes—like in this Pasta with Parsley-Walnut Pesto—is an easy way to give a dish some added protein and richness in a very simple way. A 1-ounce serving of walnuts, which is about 1/4 cup or 12 to 14 walnut halves, will deliver 5 extra grams of protein to your meal.

Beans

Creamy Spinach Pasta with White Beans

Mixing cannellini beans or chickpeas, or any type of bean for that matter, into your noodle dishes can help add 6 to 8 grams of protein per 1/2-cup serving. Not only are you getting plant-based protein by embracing beans, but you're also getting a dose of fiber and important vitamins like folate.

Try adding in some white beans, like we do in this Creamy Spinach Pasta with White Beans or go for chickpeas, like in this Pasta & Chickpea Soup. This extra bit of protein will help you feel satisfied and happy all evening long!

Vegetables

Vegan Mushroom Bolognese

Veggies are a healthy addition to any meal as they're loaded with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals—all wrapped up in a low-calorie and delicious package. But vegetables are so much more than just that. Many choices naturally contain protein and can effortlessly be added to many pasta dishes.

Simply adding 5 medium mushrooms adds 3 grams of protein to your dish, and 1 cup of broccoli adds 2 grams of protein. Add finely chopped veggies to your pasta, like we do in this Vegan Mushroom Bolognese (pictured above) or try the seriously veggie-packed Mediterranean Broccoli Pasta Salad. Not only do you get some extra plant-based protein but you also get tons of gorgeous colors and a slew of important vitamins and minerals.

Tofu

Sesame Noodles with Baked Tofu

If you are craving a pasta dish that calls for ricotta cheese but are trying to lean on more plant-based choices, try tofu on for size! Tossing a block of extra-firm tofu (drained and pressed) into a food processor with juice from 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon olive oil and seasonings of your choosing—think basil, oregano, salt and pepper—and pulsing until it reaches a ricotta-like consistency can be a delicious plant-based substitute (see how we used it in this Vegan Eggplant Parmesan).

You can also bake your tofu until golden brown or simply buy a package of pre-seasoned baked tofu from the grocery store and mix it with noodles like we did with the Sesame Noodles with Baked Tofu recipe (pictured above).

A 3-ounce serving of firm tofu delivers 8 grams of protein, plus you also get a calcium boost for bone health, and iron to support a healthy immune system.

Peanuts and peanut butter

Thai Peanut Curry Noodles

Peanuts and peanut butter are easy additions to pasta dishes, like in this Carrot Peanut Noodle Salad and this Thai Peanut Curry Noodles recipe (pictured above). A 1-ounce serving of peanuts (or about 2 Tbsp. peanut butter) delivers 7 grams of plant-based protein for a satisfying boost and delicious flavor. Plus, you get a dose of heart-healthy fats, some fiber and even folate.

Edamame

3-Ing-Diabetes-Peanut-Zoodles-Edamame
Credit: Photo by: Carolyn A. Hodges, M.S., RDN

Topping pasta with shelled soybeans, or edamame, is an easy way to add more plant-based protein to your diet. A 1/2-cup serving has 17 grams of protein, plus 5 grams of fiber. Since many stores now offer frozen shelled edamame, all that's left to do is thaw and serve! In the Peanut Zoodles with Edamame recipe, we mix together peanut sauce and edamame to create a delicious dinner that delivers on the protein.

Nutritional yeast

Vegan Mac and Cheese

Sprinkling some nutritional yeast on top of your pasta dish will not only give your body all nine essential amino acids but it also enhances the flavor of many dishes by adding a slightly nutty-cheesy taste. Just adding 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast to your pasta dish will provide 4 grams of protein along with important nutrients like vitamin B12—a vitamin that people who follow a vegan lifestyle may have a hard time getting enough of on a daily basis. Try using it in recipes like our Vegan Mac & Cheese!