Protein-Packed Foods Ideas That Even the Pickiest of Eaters Will Love
If there is one thing for sure, toddlers and kids are some of the pickiest eaters on the planet. In fact, NPR states that about 20% of kids are picky eaters, making it a relatively common challenge for parents to ensure their little ones get the proper nutrition and protein they need to grow. As a parent to a picky eater myself, I fully understand how anxiety-provoking this entire reality can be, especially if you feel like your child is not getting the adequate recommended daily protein they need to thrive.
Now, as scary and alarming as this is, I want to illuminate the fact that there are spearheading protein-rich alternatives you can opt for to tackle this dinner table obstacle. Because of that, I have compiled a list of wonderful, healthy food ideas that will give you the peace of mind that your child is nailing their daily protein requirements.
How Much Protein Do Kids Need?
Before getting into the protein-packed food ideas list, it is vital to know just how much protein your child needs in the first place. In a nutshell, protein is something that every person of every age needs to survive. It is found all throughout the body and is what optimally repairs muscle bone, regulates body parts and tissues, keeps you cognitively sharp, and helps you stay physically energized. But the amount of protein necessary to achieve that goal varies based on age, sex, and weight.
For example, Healthline indicates that an adult needs 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and kids need 1-1.5 grams per two pounds of body weight. Going by averages, that would be roughly the following:
- 0-12 months - 9.1 grams a day
- 1-3 years - 13 grams a day
- 4-8 years - 19 grams a day
- 9-13 years - 34 grams a day
- 14-18 years (GIRLS) - 46 grams per day
- 14-18 years (BOYS) - 52 grams per day
Foods High in Protein That Kids Will LoveNow onto the meat and potatoes of this article (pun intended). These are protein-rich foods outside of the usual chicken nuggets that are likely to be attractive to picky eaters and worth trying out.
- Greek Yogurt - Greek yogurt comes in many different flavors that might be appealing to your little one. It is also the best yogurt option that features the most protein content on the market today. If you happen to find your child has a hard time with the thickness of it, try adding in some chia seeds to make the texture easier to eat. We love to have the kids make their own yogurt parfait and top it with what they love, including chocolate chips!
- Cheeses - From sliced cheese to string cheese, this is an excellent protein-dense snack that will give your child the nutrients they need. Not to mention cheese is also rich in calcium as well, which is also fundamental for their growing bones.
Peanut or Almond Butter - If your child is not allergic to peanuts, giving them just a small teaspoon of peanut butter to dip apple slices or celery sticks in can get them close (or exceed) their target protein intake. Almond Butter is also an amazing alternative. We love spreading both types on toasted frozen waffles for a quick after-school snack!
- Broccoli - Believe it or not, but broccoli is a vegetable that has more protein per calorie than steak does. You would indeed need to eat more broccoli to get the same protein count as a steak, but this would be a favorable side dish for an extra boost of protein. Top it with butter and cheese if you need -- a little bit won't hurt and we have to do what we have to do when it comes to kids!
Fish - Whether it be typically cooked fish, packaged tuna, or breaded fish sticks, this is a powerhouse way to ensure your child gets enough protein. Keep in mind that eating fish every day is not recommended, but it is excellent to integrate into your weekly lunch/dinner routine a night or two.
Eggs - Aside from being filled with protein, there are so many different ways you can cook eggs. This means that even if your child is not fond of scrambled eggs, they may fancy a hardboiled one instead. It may be a trial and error effort, but you just might discover a winner by doing so. My son loves the fun of having "egg in a whole" -- a whole cut out in the middle of a piece of bread with an egg fried in the middle.
- Lentils - As someone from South Asian descent, lentils, (specifically Toor Dal) was a staple for us growing up. One-fourth of a cup of dried lentils gives about 8 grams of protein (plus some amazing fiber!). My boys have been eating this sometimes as a soup, sometimes over rice since they first started eating. I love to hide veggies in there too. Here is a great Instant Pot recipe for it-- I modify it for the kids by making it not spicy at all- I don't put chillies or chili powder and just add it in later for those who want some heat.
Final Thoughts - You and Your Child Have Options
In summary, we all want what is best for our little ones to be healthy and grow up strong. We want them to consume the most nutritious, protein-packed foods they need to reach their peak potential as they navigate through their development years. However, achieving that goal with a picky eater is certainly much easier said than done.
With that being said, if you feel like your child is not getting the protein, consider introducing some of the tasty, protein-rich alternatives mentioned above or adding some protein powder into smoothies or muffins. Even if those don’t work out the way you hoped, keep trying with different options until you find that one (or some) that passes their taste test. Overall, I know this is a hard thing to face for any parent, but I can promise you that your little one will thank you someday when they are older for giving them a healthy foundation to live a happy, prospering, quality life.
This post was written by Lakshmi