Protein is an important food group for growing bodies. It helps with building muscle and repairing tissue, which is important for children when you think about how many falls they have throughout their childhood!
Protein is also:
- a great source of amino acids
- usually full of iron and b vitamins
- helps the body produce hemoglobin
- and supports the immune system when needed
The recommended dietary intake of protein for children between the ages of 4 and 8 is approximately 20g per day, yet many don’t get close to that.
Sometimes finding options that will keep well at school or that will suit a fussy eater – or both! – takes some trial and error, but it’s a useful food group in lunchboxes.
Children have a limited amount of food over a school day. It makes sense to ensure that a good amount of the food in their lunchboxes is going to keep them full and not cause a blood sugar spike. Fat is my go-to for this type of food, but protein is a close second, and a food group people tend to be more comfortable with.
I’ve put together this list of yummy protein-packed recipes perfect for your next kids lunchbox. Some of them might surprise you!
Anything With Eggs is my motto! If the humble boiled egg is too plain for your tot, give frittatas a try. You can make them full size and slice for lunches, or make individual serve frittatas in a muffin tin. Not only are they easy and a powerhouse of nutrition, but they give you the opportunity to hide a little extra veg in your kids’ lunches.
Quinoa is a gluten-free pseudograin that’s similar in texture and preparation to rice grains, with a nutty flavour. It’s also a complete protein source, meaning it provides all of the essential amino acids – a rarity for plant-based protein sources.
Quinoa is incredibly versatile too. Some like it cooked as a porridge, some eat the flakes as cereal or the plain boiled grains as a side dish. My favourite way to eat quinoa is as a burger patty.
Our family has been making this quinoa burger from Eating Well… Living Thin since early 2011 and it is so good! It can be a bit messy forming the patties, but once they’re made they’re an easy lunchbox filler that you can pack straight from the freezer.
Fish gets overlooked a little bit in the lunchbox, yet I know quite a few kids who love the stuff! My two love wild tinned salmon on rice crackers with some caviar, but not all kids share their taste.
Nuggets seem to be a universal favourite for kids. They don’t have to be limited to chicken though. Salmon nuggets are easy to make and are delicious. When The Fussy One was younger, he hated salmon with a passion. But if I cut fresh salmon into chunks and fried it on all sides till crispy and served them as “nuggets” he’d gobble them up without even stopping to ask why his chicken was bright pink and flaking apart.
If your kids are a little harder to fool than that, try coating them like Kristina from Love & Zest has in this salmon nuggets recipe. If they’re a hit, up the nutrition factor with these salmon cakes, replacing the tinned salmon with wild sardines.
I really love a lunchbox food that leaves the door open for more fresh produce and dip is one of the easiest ones going. Choose high protein dips like white bean dip or this delicious sounding high protein sweet potato dip. If you’d rather not make your own, cottage cheese makes a yummy dip on its own, straight from the tub.
Bite-size chunks of meat make lunchbox protein a breeze, and if your child prefers them warm, you can serve them in a thermos. These cheesy meatballs have some veggies hidden inside, as do Skinnymixer’s lunchbox meatballs. You’re not limited to beef though. Try an Italian pork meatball or Kidgredients’ parmesan chicken basil baked meatballs. If you’re feeling adventurous, try kangaroo! You can buy K-roo meatballs at most major Australian supermarkets.
6. Baked goods
Baked goods like muffins, cookies and cakes might not spring to mind when you think of protein, and in most cases you’d probably be right. Following recipes specifically designed to be high in protein though can help your little one meet their recommended daily intake.
Muffins made with coconut flour are my first recommendation for parents struggling with protein. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere before, coconut flour is an extremely thirsty flour. That means you need extra liquid when baking with it, and most recipes make this up using eggs. These carrot cake protein muffins use egg whites and Greek yoghurt (please use full-fat, not the recommended low-fat), while my favourite coconut flour muffin, Elana’s Pantry blueberry muffins, use 6 large eggs – that’s around 3g of protein per muffin!
Although these Thriving Cookies use coconut flour as a base, the majority of the protein comes from a good quality protein powder. Protein powders can be a good option if you’d like to simply up the protein in your child’s favourite muffin recipes.
Vegetables can be a little bit tricky when it comes to protein. Many aren’t a complete protein source and the amount your child would need to eat to consume the same amount of protein found in, say, a steak simply isn’t realistic. Still, I wouldn’t discount them as a protein source. After all, any vegetable your child eats is a good vegetable!
Mushrooms are already fairly high in protein for a vegetable, but did you know when they’re dehydrated, the protein content is concentrated making them one of the highest protein vegetables? Dried mushrooms are almost 40% protein! You can buy them already dried in the supermarket, in either in the fresh produce or Asian food section, or you can try your hand at making your own mushroom chips at home!
Sun-dried tomatoes are around 11% protein, which sure surprised me when I first found out. Try making your own sundried tomato pesto, using sunflower seeds or pepitas in place of pine nuts, and mix it through some pasta or spread it on a chicken sandwich.
Other vegetables high in protein include:
- Broad beans (6.5%)
- Potato skins (6%)
- Broccoli (4.4%)
- Bean sprouts (3%)
- Wakame (3%)
- Alfalfa sprouts (3.3%)
- Spirulina (57%)
- Snow peas (3.6%)
Okay, before we go jumping up and down, clapping hands, and generally getting carried away at the idea of having permission to fill your kids’ lunchboxes with lollies, I’m talking about the healthy kind of confectionary. Think home-made marshmallows and healthy jelly lollies. Both of these are made with grass-fed gelatin which is not only healthy AF, but also a fantastic source of protein. 100g of Vital Proteins grass-fed beef gelatin contains 85g of protein! That means even the sweet treats you’re packing are helping your kids stay strong and healthy! I call that a win.
Nuts are a great plant-based protein option, but are usually not allowed in schools. I’ll often replace nuts and nut butters with seeds in recipes I want to make so that they’re allowed at school, but did you know that seeds are also a great source of protein and a powerhouse of nutrients?
These five seed crackers are ridiculously easy to make and delicious flavoured only with sea salt. Pair them with cheese for a simple protein-filled snack. Another favourite snack is the I Quit Sugar chia mousse. Add some orange juice and zest for a choc orange flavour hit full of protein and good fats.
Cheese, glorious cheese! I don’t know many children that don’t love cheese and the good news is that it’s a great alternative source of protein. While you can serve tasty, fetta, camembert and colby on their own, there are also plenty of ways to work cheeses into other items in the lunchbox.
There you have it. 10 ways with protein for your child’s lunchbox. Did any of these surprise you?
Need more ideas? Head over to the Lunchbox Protein Ideas board on Pinterest! Or pin this post: