Bowl of Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with chopped sage on top

The Best Plant-Based Proteins for the Holidays

Protein is found in a variety of different plant foods. These inspirational recipes featuring some of the best plant-based proteins for the holidays will help you get creative with your next menu planning.

What do you think when you hear “tofurkey”? If you’re like me, you’re intrigued by this innovative food product made for plant-based eaters at Thanksgiving to help make dinner accommodations easier. If you’re like my husband, your face is grimacing, questioning how this strange concoction managed to win a place on the grocery store shelves.

While tofurkey can be a great plant protein option for holiday meals, there are so many creative ways to incorporate plant proteins into your menu around the holidays. You may prefer the flavor and convenience of “meat” alternatives such as tofurkey. Or you enjoy creating your own dishes from whole food sources. Either way, this list of plant-based proteins with recipe examples can help jump start your creative holiday menu planning.



Quick, rolled, and steel cut oats make a great base to a fiber-rich breakfast to start the day off strong. Oats are a whole grain containing the fiber called beta-glucan. This type of fiber is known to help reduce cholesterol, manage blood sugars, and promote the good gut bacteria.

Use oats in more than just a pot of oatmeal. Try making an oatmeal casserole, fruit crisps, breakfast cookies, granola, baking flour, or in energy bites as a snack.

This gluten-free, Vegan Microwavable Apple Crisp is the perfect serving of fruit and oats when you need a quick fall breakfast (or dessert).

Vegan gluten-free apple crisp with dairy-free yogurt on top

Get cozy with this Gingerbread Banana Oatmeal sweetened with bananas and blackstrap molasses (hello, iron!). This just tastes like winter.

Gingerbread Banana Oatmeal sweetened with molasses


Incorporate tiny, but powerful seeds into morning baked goods. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and ground flaxseeds pack a punch of protein, fiber, and essential omega-3 fatty acids needed for brain, eye, and heart health. Add these seeds to your family’s favorite pancakes like these gluten-free Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Pancakes.

Gluten-free chocolate chip pumpkin pancakes on blue plate with coffee mug



Legumes are an underestimated protein source in many diets. Just one cup of cooked beans or lentils can have about 15-25 grams of protein. Use legumes in sauces, salads, stuffings, cooked grains, tacos, curries, and so much more.

Make a lentil “bolognese” sauce from scratch or simply add cooked lentils to store-bought marinara sauce. Use this hearty sauce to stuff spaghetti squash or top on any of your favorite pasta noodles. Mash chickpeas or black beans into “meatballs” with onions, bell peppers, garlic, a touch of flour, and lots of seasonings.

Baked spaghetti squash stuffed with lentil “bolognese” sauce

Lentils provide a similar texture to ground meats. Swap in lentils when creating stuffed peppers in this recipe by The Kitchen Invitation.

Photo provided by The Kitchen Invitation

Soy-based Foods

Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are made from soybeans providing all of the amino acids required by the body. Despite mythical beliefs, soy-based foods may actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. I love using tofu in Indian curries & Thai-inspired dishes. Add edamame to rice or noodle stir fries. Tempeh can have a similar chewy texture to chicken which works well for those experimenting with a plant-based dish.

Tofu curry with butternut squash

“Meat” Alternatives

Along with tofurkey, the plant-based grocery sections are stocked with mock meats. Options range from vegan alternatives in ground beef, chicken, sausage, fish, turkey, bacon and so much more. These products can make creating traditional holiday dishes a bit easier without compromising much of the original recipe. If you enjoy the flavors of these foods, they can be rich in protein and added nutrients for a plant-based diet.

Whole Grains

Using the entire grain – endosperm, germ, and bran – provides a punch of fiber and protein with a touch of fat. Some of the most protein-packed grains include quinoa, amaranth, farro, Kamut, and oats. Grains work well as the foundation of many dishes such as grain salads, soups, stir fries, and “stuffing”. Get started with this Southwest Quinoa Blend.

Snacks, Apps, and Sides

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts & seeds are for more than just snacking. These concentrated sources of protein, fiber, and unsaturated fat work well as garnishes, baking flours, and fillings. Add slivered almonds to salads. Blend raw cashews into a creamy sauce. Toss toasted pecans with roasted vegetables. Seeds can sneak into dishes quite well, too. Tossing chia seeds and hemp seeds into soups, energy bites, granola bars, salad dressings, and appetizer dips increases the protein, fiber, and essential omega-3 fatty acids of many dishes.

Add a sprinkle of dairy-free Parmesan cheese and pecans to seasonal delicata squash like in this recipe by Cheesy Nutrition.

Photo provided by Cheesy Nutrition

Don’t forget about nut and seed butters, too! Tahini, or ground sesame seeds, blends into hummus to balance out the flavors and provide creaminess. It also works well as a yummy dressing for most fall and winter vegetables. Try the tahini dressing on this roasted cauliflower dish (side or appetizer).

Roasted Tahini Cauliflower served on blue plate

Legumes (again!)

Did I mention hummus? Yes, because it’s my jam… or spread, dip, or pasta sauce. Hummus is traditionally made from chickpeas, but it can also be made from a variety of other beans and lentils. I love blending up cooked red lentils or serving this refreshing Lemony White Bean Hummus as a starter.

Whole grains (also again!)

Pop, pop…. Popcorn! Popcorn is a great way to snack on fiber, carbohydrates, and protein all in one. Try this sweeter twist on popcorn with Cheerful Choices recipe for Chocolate Popcorn (yum!). 

Photo provided by Cheerful Choices

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of foods nor recipes that can provide your body with optimal protein. Hopefully, it is a good place to start! So, are you excited to get cooking with some of these options? Comment below with your best plant-based proteins for the holidays. I’d love to hear from you!

Buon appetito, friends!

Shannon Costello, RDN, LDN signature

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