There are several reasons protein is good for weight loss. Protein is filling, it boosts metabolism, and helps build muscle. If you’re also working out—which can promote healthy, sustainable weight loss, as well as blood sugar management, cardiovascular wellness, and much more—your protein intake should especially be a focus. “Protein is important because it provides the amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle,” says the Mayo Clinic‘s blog.
Tyler Sellers, a professional athlete and senior fitness coach at Total Shape in Indianapolis, IN, says protein also “increases daily calorie expenditure from lean muscle,” which helps with weight loss.
Errick McAdams, a Washington D.C.-based personal trainer, says getting protein from real food, and not protein powders or other supplements, is ideal. He’s a fan of incorporating cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and avocado into snacks and meals for protein boosts, and he tells athlete clients to keep it simple and eat eggs for breakfast, chicken or fish for lunch, and beef or lentils for dinner.
That’s how trainers eat. Here’s what nutrition experts suggest for high-protein dinner ideas for weight loss.
Easy salmon bowls
Salmon is a nutritional powerhouse. In addition to protein, salmon offers a generous serving of vitamins B3, B5, B6, B12, vitamin D, vitamin E and selenium. Salmon is typically also quick to cook because it only takes 15 minutes to bake a filet in the oven or air fryer.
Jamie Nadeau, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of The Balanced Nutritionist, helps her clients kick diet-related frustration to the curb with her balanced approach to nutrition. For a high-protein meal that can be ready in minutes, Nadeau recommends keeping the ingredients on hand to make simple salmon bowls:
- Bake four ounces of salmon.
- Combine the salmon with avocado and cucumbers.
- Place over a bed of brown rice.
- Blend mayo, sriracha, and a splash each of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce to drizzle over the fish and veggies.
“This easy meal provides 26 grams of protein,” Nadeau says.
Bell pepper dinner nachos
Nachos aren’t just an appetizer at the pub; they can be an easy, protein-packed dinner idea. If done properly, nachos are an excellent way to pack a lot of nutrition in a meal that feels like a cheat. First, Nadeau reduces calories and boosts Vitamin C and Vitamin A by replacing half of the chips with sliced, roasted bell pepper.
Then Nadeau tops the chips and peppers with:
- four ounces of shredded rotisserie chicken
- one-quarter cup shredded cheese
- one-quarter cup beans
All this gives one serving of this fun meal 37 grams of protein. You can add more protein with nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and garnish with cilantro, green onions, jalapenos or black olives to add additional flavor (and nutrients) without too many added calories.
Chicken with Pistachio Curry Salad
“The pistachios are the star in this curried side salad,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH, nutritionist and author of The One One One Diet.
Batayneh tosses boneless, skinless chicken breast with:
- avocado oil
- garlic powder
- smoked paprika
- salt and pepper
and bakes it for 35 minutes at 425 degrees, flipping halfway.
While the chicken cooks, she makes the honey curry dressing, which includes:
- one cup of Greek yogurt
- one tablespoon yellow curry powder
- one to two tablespoons of honey
- a half-teaspoon of garlic powder
- fresh lemon juice to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- one cup roasted and salted pistachios (chopped or whole)
- two stalks of celery
- sliced or chopped to preferred size
- three-quarter cup raisins
- three thinly sliced scallions.
Slice the fully baked chicken and toss it in the dressing. You can serve this healthy curry chicken salad in a variety of ways, such as on a bed of greens or as a filling for lettuce wraps.
“Instead of using traditional mayo, I use Greek yogurt to bump up the protein,” Batayneh says—plus: “Using pistachios, a complete protein, you also add healthy fats and fiber, which helps to make each bite even more satisfying. Plus, about 90% of the fats found in pistachios are unsaturated, for a trio of nutrients that may help keep you fuller longer.”
“If you’re looking for a diet-friendly dinner that will help you with weight loss, a warm beef chili bowl is the way to go,” says Joanna Wen, nutritionist and founder of Spices & Greens. “Not only does it provide high-protein content from both the meat and the beans, which helps to keep you fuller for fewer calories, but it’s also an aromatic dish that’ll leave you feeling satisfied.”
Beef chili bowls have other benefits as well: They are very versatile in terms of ingredients and flavors, so you can switch up the dishes frequently to keep them interesting. “For example, you could season your bowls with thermogenic spices such as cinnamon, cayenne, and cumin to naturally boost your metabolism and fat-burn!” Wen says.
You can also swap out the beef for turkey to lower the calories and fat content.
High-protein, high-fiber pasta
You might think that high-protein and weight loss couldn’t possibly be in the same sentence as pasta, but not all pasta is carbohydrate laden. Ashley Poladian is a trainer and a diet coach who loves finding high-protein and low-calorie foods to help her clients achieve fat loss without giving up foods they love. “I love this quick and healthy take on a standard pasta dish because it’s fast and full of protein that is suitable for vegetarians,” Poladian says. “The fiber content in the noodles alone is just as high as the protein, which means the dish will keep you fuller for longer!”
For one serving, Poladian’s recipe is:
- two ounces of The Only Bean – Soy, Black Bean, and Edamame Spaghetti & Fettuccine
- one cup Cucina Antica Nonna’s Recipe Pasta Sauce,
- salt & pepper to taste,
- one to two ounces of parmesan cheese
- fresh basil for a garnish (optional)
“If you’re not a vegetarian, consider adding your favorite lean meat to the dish,” Poladian suggests. Without added meat, this dish has 25 grams of protein.
One of the best high-protein dinner ideas is a stir-fry. You can make this daily, if you want, by varying the meats and veggies to keep it interesting. The options are almost endless.
You can stir fry beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, turkey, ahi tuna, or tofu with whatever veggies appeal to you that day. You can make your stir fry spicy, saucy or sweet depending on the ingredients you choose to add to your wok.
Regardless of what you choose, you’ll have a protein-packed dinner that keeps well and will make a great lunch the next day. Serve your stir fry over brown rice to boost nutrition and protein.
Eggs for dinner
Don’t forget about eggs for dinner in the form of quiches and frittatas. Sellers is a huge fan of eggs because they’re a great source of protein, minerals, vitamins and healthy fats. “Eggs have been shown in numerous studies to improve satiety and avoid overeating,” Sellers says, which makes them a great choice when weight loss is a goal.