We get it; feeding a fussy or picky eater can sometimes feel frustrating and you worry if they are getting enough protein.
So, let me share a little secret with you: I’ve been there too. My little girl was a fussy eater, especially when it came to meat. But you know meat is not the only source of protein. And so many children struggle with the texture of meat.
In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of high protein foods for picky eaters. And trust me, it’s not all just chicken nuggets. We’re going to make it fun, delicious, and super easy for you.
Protein Requirements for Kids
Alright, so let’s get into understanding more about protein needs, especially when it comes to your child. Kids come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their protein needs. You see, a toddler and a teenager don’t need the same amount of protein.
The reference nutrient intake (RNI) for protein is
- For a 1 to 3 years old 14.5g a day
- 4 to 6 years old it 19.7g
- 7-10 years old it is 28.3g
- 11-14 year old boys 42.1g and 55.2g for 15-18 year olds.
- In girls aged 11-14 years old it is 41.2g and for 15-18 years old 45.4g.
However, to reassure you about protein recent data from DNSIYC and NDNS indicated that average protein intake in children aged 12 to 18 months was actually 38g a day. That is more than twice the recommended amount. (1)
Why is Protein so important for kids
Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into why protein is important for your child.
Growth Spurts and Strong Muscles:
Your little ones are growing like beanstalks, right? Apart from mine who is tracking the 2nd centile for her height and weight. Which is fine as she is small and mighty. Plus, it saves me a fortune on buying new clothes!
Well, protein is like the secret sauce that helps them shoot up and become strong and tall. It’s those building blocks we talked about, helping to create those sturdy muscles that make climbing (my child’s favourite activity) jumping, and playing a breeze.
Without protein, it’s like trying to build a Lego tower without enough Lego bricks – it just won’t stand up.
Here’s the superhero part of protein. If your kiddo takes a tumble and gets a little scrape or bump, protein steps in to save the day. It helps the body heal faster, just like a superhero swooping in to rescue someone in distress. So, when your child has a minor injury, protein is there to speed up the recovery process.
Metabolism, digestion, immunity and energy
Protein also helps produce hormones, enzymes, and other important molecules that regulate various bodily functions, including metabolism, digestion, and immunity. During childhood, kids are constantly learning, exploring, and playing, which demands a steady supply of energy. Protein helps sustain their energy levels throughout the day, keeping them active and engaged in their daily activities.
So, protein isn’t just another nutrient on the list; it’s like the main character in your child’s growth and development adventure. With enough of it in their diet, they can leap, play, and grow with all the energy and vitality of a little superhero!
How much protein should my child be having?
Now, you might be wondering, “How much protein should I be serving up?” Great question! Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
Divide It Up: Spread out that protein love throughout the day. Include some in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and don’t forget about snacks.
Variety Is Key: Remember that meat isn’t the only protein superhero in town. There are loads of plant-based options like beans, nuts, and tofu that can do the job too.
Portion Power: Think kid-sized portions. You don’t need to serve up a steak that’s as big as your child’s head; a smaller serving will do the trick.
So, there you have it – the scoop on protein requirements for your kiddos. Now that you know what they need, we can dive into the fun part – finding delicious and nutritious ways to meet those protein requirements.
High Protein Foods for Kids
So, you’re probably wondering where to find all this glorious protein for your little one, right?
- Eggs: These little oval wonders are protein-packed, with about 6-7 grams of protein in one egg. They’re versatile and can be scrambled, fried, or even made into an omelette with your child’s favourite ingredients.
- Greek Yogurt: This creamy delight is a protein powerhouse, delivering around 10-15 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving. Plus, it’s a perfect canvas for adding fruits, honey, or a sprinkle of seeds.
- Lean Meats (Chicken and Turkey): Skinless chicken and turkey are great choices with about 25-30 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving. You can roast, grill, or use them in recipes your child already loves.
- Beans and Legumes: These little guys are super affordable and nutritious. A cup of cooked beans can bring 15-20 grams of protein to the party. They’re great in chili, burritos, or as a veggie burger.
- Cheese and Dairy Products: A slice of cheese offers about 7 grams of protein, and a cup of milk packs in 8 grams. Cheese can be a terrific snack, and milk goes well with cereal or in smoothies.
Helpful ways to incorporate protein into your fussy eaters diet
Now, here’s a secret: you can add protein in all sorts of creative ways. Here are a few tricks:
- Smoothies: Blend Greek yogurt, a spoonful of peanut butter, and some frozen berries for a delicious, protein-packed treat that your child will adore.
- Protein-Packed Pancakes: Mix Greek yogurt into pancake batter. It makes for fluffier pancakes that are secretly loaded with protein.
See, protein doesn’t have to be boring or complicated. With a little creativity and some of these tips, you can easily incorporate protein into your child’s diet.
How Can I Get My Child to Eat More Protein?
High Protein Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters
Sometimes, it’s all about making mealtimes feel like a delightful adventure for your little one. Here are some complete meal ideas that not only incorporate high-protein foods:
- Spaghetti with Turkey or Beef Meatballs and Veggie Sauce: Transform traditional spaghetti into a high-protein delight by using turkey or beef for the meatballs. Serve them with a veggie-packed tomato sauce.
- Veggie and Cheese Quesadillas: Quesadillas can be a canvas for creativity. Load them up with cheese, fold them in half, and crisp them up in a pan. Add veggies too but you may have to add them slowly depending on your child’s preferences.
- Mini Meatloaf Muffins with Mashed Sweet Potatoes: Mini meatloaf muffins are a hit with kids, and they’re packed with protein. Make them with lean ground beef or turkey and add some finely chopped veggies. Serve with creamy mashed sweet potatoes for a complete and comforting meal.
- Tofu Nuggets with Dipping Sauces: Give classic chicken nuggets a protein-packed twist by using tofu. Cut the tofu into bite-sized nuggets, coat them with breadcrumbs and bake until crispy. Pair with a variety of dipping sauces, like honey mustard or barbecue, for added excitement.
These meal ideas are not only delicious but also full of the protein your child needs for growth and development. Plus, you might find that they discover a new favourite dish among these protein-packed creations.
What protein is good for kids who won’t eat meat?
The world of protein is vast, and there are so many sources to explore. Encourage your child to try different protein-rich foods to keep their meals exciting and varied.
- Beans and Legumes: How about a chickpea salad or a black bean burrito? These plant-based options are brimming with protein.
- Fish: Baked or grilled fish, like salmon, can be a delightful and healthy protein source.
- Dairy Delights: Greek yoghurt make terrific breakfast or snack options. Top them with honey, fruit, or a sprinkle of nuts.
- Nut Butter Magic: If your child isn’t allergic, almond or cashew butter can be a fun alternative to peanut butter.
- Tofu: Tofu is a plant-based superhero, with about 8 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving. It can be cubed, marinated, and added to stir-fries or grilled for a unique texture and flavour.
- Quinoa: This tiny grain is a protein champ, providing 8 grams of protein per cup when cooked.
High Protein Snacks for Picky Eaters
- Hard-Boiled Eggs: Hard-boiled eggs are nature’s protein-packed snack, and they’re so simple to prepare. Slice them up and add them to a lunchbox. These little powerhouses offer protein and essential nutrients like choline and vitamins.
- Cheese and Whole-Grain Crackers: Cheese and crackers make for a classic and satisfying snack. Cheese provides a good dose of protein, while whole-grain crackers offer fibre for extra staying power.
- Greek yoghurt: Greek yoghurt is a great source of protein, calcium, and other nutrients. It can be enjoyed plain or with fruit, nut butters, granola or seeds.
- Hummus and veggies: Hummus is a delicious and nutritious spread made from chickpeas. It can be enjoyed with vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, and peppers or even breadsticks if your child is not ready for veggies yet.
- Nut butter and fruit: Nut butter is a good source of protein and healthy fats. It can be enjoyed on its own or with fruit such as apples and bananas.
These snacks are not only scrumptious but also super easy to prepare. They’ll satisfy your child’s hunger and keep their energy levels up.
Family Friendly High-Protein Meals
High Protein Breakfast for Picky Eaters
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, and for good reason. It’s your child’s kickstart to the day, providing them with the energy they need. And what’s better than starting the day with a delicious, protein-packed breakfast that your picky eater will adore?
Here are a few options:
- Scrambled Eggs with Spinach and Feta: Scrambled eggs are a breakfast classic, and they’re a fantastic source of protein. To make them extra special, add some sautéed spinach and crumbled feta cheese.
- Overnight Oats with Chia Seeds and Almond Butter: Overnight oats are a lifesaver for busy mornings. Mix oats with Greek yogurt, chia seeds, and a dollop of almond butter. Let it sit in the fridge overnight, and voila! In the morning, you’ll have a creamy, protein-rich bowl of goodness. Top it with some fresh fruit or a drizzle of honey for extra pizzazz.
They’re easy to make and can be customized to suit your child’s taste buds.
High Protein Lunches for Picky Eaters
Protein is a lunchtime superhero. It not only provides energy but also keeps your child full and focused throughout the afternoon. Incorporating protein into lunch helps maintain steady blood sugar levels, preventing the mid-afternoon energy crash.
Creative lunch ideas
- DIY Protein Pitta Pockets: This lunch is all about customization. Set out whole-grain pitta bread and an array of protein-rich ingredients like grilled chicken strips, chickpeas, cheese and a variety of veggies. Let your child create their pitta masterpiece by adding their favourite protein sources and toppings. It’s a fun, hands-on lunch that ensures everyone gets exactly what they like.
- Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich: Take the peanut butter sandwich to a whole new level. Spread it on whole-grain bread, add banana slices.
- Mini Ham or Chicken and Cheese Wraps: Roll-ups are a fantastic way to combine protein with convenience. Take small tortillas or flatbreads and spread them with cream cheese or hummus. Then, layer on slices of chicken, ham and your child’s favourite cheese. Roll them up and slice them into bite-sized pinwheels.
- Nutty Yoghurt: This lunch idea combines creamy yogurt with nuts and fruits for a delightful, protein-packed treat. Layer Greek yogurt with granola, nut butters, and fresh berries or slices of banana.
So, say goodbye to boring lunches and hello to delicious and nutritious midday meals that your picky eater will love.
Should I Give My Child Protein Powder?
Protein supplements for children
Protein supplements, including protein powders, are designed to provide an easy and convenient source of protein. They’re often marketed for athletes and those looking to boost their protein intake. However, when it comes to children, the decision to use protein supplements should be made thoughtfully.
When and if protein powder is appropriate
Before you consider giving your child protein powder, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a paediatrician or a registered dietitian. They can assess your child’s specific dietary needs and recommend whether protein supplementation is necessary.
In most cases, children can obtain all the protein they need from a well-balanced diet. If your child is a picky eater or has dietary restrictions, there are usually other ways to increase their protein intake without the need for supplements.
In summary in we have unlocked some ideas to make sure your kid gets all the protein they need.
From brekkie to snacks, lunch, and dinner, we’ve found some awesome ways to help get that all-important protein. Whether it’s mixing up meals or adding protein-packed ingredients, we’ve got a bunch of tasty options for your picky eater.
As a mum and a dietitian, I know how stressful it can be have a picky eater or fussy eater. If you are worried about your child’s nutrition, book a free call or check out my Creating Confident Eater Programme to see if I can help your child with their fussy eating.
Or download my free guide to help Boost your child’s iron intake with irresistible snacks for picky eaters
Written by Emma Shafqat, Paediatric Dietitian RD. The information is correct at the time of publishing the blog.