More and more people are moving meat to the side of the plate in order to let plants shine. The mighty soybean, found in a variety of foods, such as tofu, tempeh, meat alternatives, soymilk, and soy nuts, can help. 

The old American plate looked something like this: a big brown steak at the center, a volcano of potatoes on the side, and a modest little pile of green beans along the border. Make way for the new American plate, which has a whole new look: meat is more of a seasoning, with plant proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits forming the basis of the meal.

Increasingly, health experts recognize that a diet filled with more minimally processed plant foods and fewer animal foods offers myriad health benefits; studies show this eating style can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and obesity. And that’s not all. A plant-based eating style can trim your carbon footprint, too. No wonder 50% of consumers say that they are seeking more plant proteins in their diet, according to a NPD Group survey.

So, how do you take the plunge into plant proteins? One surefire way to get started is to take full advantage of the mighty soybean in meal planning. Soybeans, a traditional, staple food in Asian diets for centuries, has the highest quality protein profile among plant proteins—it’s very similar to that of beef, fish, milk and eggs. Soy is also very eco-friendly, offering a protein source that is ten times more efficient than meat, in terms of land usage. Plus, soy has been linked with heart health benefits due to its fabulous nutritional lineup, which includes fiber, healthy fats, high quality protein, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals.

Ready to get started eating more soyfoods as a plant-based meal alternative? It’s easy! Turn to an array of wholesome soy foods, such as tofu (in a variety of textures, ranging from silken to extra firm), tempeh (an Indonesian fermented soy grain cake), soymilk, edamame (green, immature soybeans), soynuts, and meat alternatives that run the gamut from sausages and burgers to “chicken” strips and crumbles.

Check out my favorite tips for turning to soyfoods to power your plate.

• For taco night, fill your taco shells with “ground beef-style” soy crumbles, which are available in a variety of flavors.
• Try soymilk as a more sustainable alternative to cow’s milk. Fortified soymilk has a very similar nutritional profile (the most nutrient-rich of the plant milks, in fact) to cow’s milk, and its mild flavor is perfect for topping cereal, blending into smoothies, stirring into coffee, and mixing into baked goods.
• Switch out cubed, cooked chicken for tofu in your favorite recipe, such as stir-fry, cacciatore, pasta dishes, and casseroles. Just drain the tofu (you can use a tofu press for best results), and dice it. Remember that tofu is very mild and takes on the flavor of the sauces it is prepared in, so maximize the flavor of your dish.
• Pack cooked, chilled edamame as your go-to healthy snack in kids’ lunchboxes, office brown bags, and picnic baskets.
• Dice baked tofu—preseasoned tofu—over your entrée salad for a savory, protein-rich, healthy meal.
• Try a new brand of veggie burger featuring soy for your next weekend BBQ.
• Give your weekend breakfast a healthy makeover with tempeh bacon served with grilled veggies and whole grain toast.
• Swirl silken tofu into smoothies, dips, puddings, or pie fillings for a creamy alternative to cream cheese, yogurt, or sour cream.
• Sprinkle soynuts into your trail mix, granola, or yogurt.

Try out some of my fabulous new recipes to celebrate Soy Foods Month!

Sesame Red Chard Salad with Edamame and Brown Rice

Edamame—the immature, green beans from the soy plant—is one of my favorite go-to plant-powered foods. Super packed in high quality protein (17 grams per cup!), plus fiber, iron, calcium, and more, I include this food in my diet regularly. One of my favorite ways to use edamame is in salads, such as this new salad, featuring brown rice, red chard, brown rice, and a sesame vinaigrette. It’s delicious served the next day, too! 

2 cups cooked brown rice, cooled
1 ½ cups edamame, frozen, thawed
1 bell pepper, diced (red, yellow, orange)
1 scallion, diced
3 cups packed, chopped red Swiss chard
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 ½ tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon agave nectar
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes

1. In a medium bowl, mix together brown rice, edamame, pepper, scallion, chard, and sesame seeds.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, oil, garlic, ginger, agave, and red chili flakes.
3. Toss salad with vinaigrette and chill until serving time.

Makes 6 servings

Mushroom Spinach Tofu Pie

Tofu is the magic ingredient in this quiche dish, which is like a plant-based meal in one. Packed with protein, whole grains, and veggies, it’s a nutrition power house to fuel your day. Rich in savory mushrooms and spinach, this pie can be served at breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner—and it’s delicious the next day, too! 

1 ¼ cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup plain, unsweetened, soymilk

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms
5 ounces (4 cups tightly packed) fresh, baby spinach leaves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt (optional)
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 15-ounce container extra firm tofu, drained, cubed
½ cup plain, unsweetened soymilk
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons whole grain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Mix flour, flax seeds, and salt (optional) together. Stir in ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil and ¼ cup soymilk and mix to form a dough. Roll out on a lightly floured surface into a circle. Fit into a 9-inch pie dish. Pierce with a fork and place in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 6 minutes. 4. Add sliced mushrooms, and sauté for an additional 3 minutes.
5. Add fresh spinach leaves, black pepper, salt (optional), mustard, paprika, oregano, and turmeric and sauté for about 2 minutes, just until wilted. Remove from heat.
6. Place tofu, ½ cup soymilk, nutritional yeast, and soy sauce in a blender container and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.
7. Stir blended tofu into the spinach mixture.
8. Fill pie shell with spinach tofu filling. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and return to oven. Bake for an additional 50 minutes, uncovered.
9. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Slice into 8 servings. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings

Recipes created by Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of Plant-Powered for Life,

Note: This month’s post is sponsored by the Soyfoods Association of North America

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