It’s so easy to worry about whether our kids are eating enough protein, especially if they aren’t fans of meat or don’t regularly consume dairy. To help reduce confusion and frustration, here’s the scoop on how much protein kids need and the best kid-friendly sources!
Protein for Kids
So many of us adults worry about our own protein intake, so it’s not surprising that we also worry about whether our kids are getting enough. Here’s the good news: Your toddler probably gets plenty of protein without you even having to worry about it at all. I know, I was surprised to learn that too, but yay, one less thing to worry about!
As a refresher on the role of protein, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Your child requires protein for the proper growth and functioning of his body, including building new tissues and producing antibodies that help battle infections. Without essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), children would be much more susceptible to serious diseases.Kids need protein to provide the building blocks for their muscles to grow.
How much protein do kids need?
The average toddler only needs 2-3 servings of protein per day as a baseline starting point. That’s about the equivalent of:
- 1 egg and ½ cup of milk
- ¼ cup of Greek yogurt and 1 tablespoon nut butter
- 1-2 ounces chicken and ¼ cup peas or beans
- 1/2-1 string cheese and 1/2-1 cup milk
- 1/4-½ cup cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons-¼ cup beans
- ¼ cup beans and ¼ cup quinoa
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter, ½ slice whole grain bread, ½ cup milk
- 3 ½ cup servings of milk
TIP: I am almost positive that the majority of our little ones are eating plenty by the time that they get to lunch…on most days anyway!
High Protein Foods for Picky Eaters
It can be helpful to include a protein-rich food in most meals and snacks to help your child have balanced energy—since a protein with a fruit or veggie will combine to create longer lasting energy. (Translation: They may have more even energy and not ask for snacks quite as quickly!) It can also be a challenge to serve toddlers protein if their favorite foods don’t contain much. Here are some kid-friendly protein sources you can try:
- chocolate milk
- cottage cheese
- drinkable yogurt
- peanut butter
- almond butter
- scrambled eggs
- beans (like in a burrito or quesadilla)
- snap pea crisps
- peanut puffs
TIP: If your family doesn’t eat dairy or your child is lactose intolerant, then you may need to seek out some good protein-rich alternatives. Or be sure to regularly include other sources of protein in their meals.
Protein Sources for Toddlers Who Don’t Eat Meat
Meat and poultry are of course great sources of protein, but if your family is vegetarian or vegan, or your toddler simply doesn’t like meat, here are a few of our favorite non-meat sources of protein.
- Hemp seeds (blended into smoothies)
- Edamame beans
- Fish (salmon, fish sticks, poached fish)
- Crispy Baked Fish Sticks
- Milk (cow’s, plant milk, or soy milk)
- Nut butter (spread thinly onto bread or crackers or stirred into oatmeal)
- Pasta (bean, lentil, and quinoa, along with regular wheat pastas)
- Yogurt, drinkable
- Yogurt smoothies
TIP: Find my full list of vegetarian and pescatarian protein options here.
Protein-Rich Recipes for Kids
Below are some of my favorite kid-friendly recipes for kids that are packed with protein.
- Baked Chicken Meatballs
- Baked Chicken Nuggets
- Baked Chicken Tenders
- Baked Fish Sticks
- Banana Oatmeal Pancakes
- Blueberry Spinach Greek Fro Yo Pops
- Chicken and Sweet Potato Bowls
- Chicken Nuggets with Sweet Potato
- Chocolate Protein Muffins
- Cottage Cheese Dip
- Cottage Cheese Pancakes
- Creamy Hummus
- Drinkable Strawberry Yogurt
- Flavored Milks
- Healthy Meatballs with Hidden Veggies
- Mini Egg Cups with Zucchini and Cheese
- No-Bake Peanut Butter Balls
- Overnight Oats with Berries
- Peanut Butter Oatmeal Energy Balls
- 30 Second Scrambled Eggs
- Soft Roasted Cinnamon Chickpeas
- Strawberry Greek Frozen Yogurt Pops
Downloadable Protein Chart for Kids
To help you vary the protein sources that you offer, and to remind you of all of the options when you forget, you can download this Toddler Protein Guide for free. Keep it on your phone or print it out and hang it on the fridge!