High Protein Foods For Picky Eaters (25+ Healthy Ideas) | Element Nutrition Kids

High Protein Foods For Picky Eaters (25+ Healthy Ideas)

Inside this article: If you’ve ever wondered if your kid is getting enough protein in their diet, or if you simply need some protein ideas for a picky eater, you’ve landed in the right spot. In this article, I’m going to review everything you need to know about high-protein foods for picky eaters. 

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What is protein

Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of amino acids and is found throughout the body. It is in the skin, hair, nails, muscle, and pretty much every other tissue in the body. Our bodies need protein from the foods we eat in order to grow and function on a daily basis. 

Kids are growing at a rapid rate, so ensuring they are getting the right nutrients they need for growth and development is key. Luckily, most kids in developed countries get more than enough protein from the foods they consume. However, the bigger challenge is getting kids to eat high-quality proteins, this is especially challenging for picky eaters

Plate with high protein foods for picky eaters

How much protein do kids need?

The amount of protein that kids need really varies based on their age, weight, and other factors such as activity level. This said, there are some basic guidelines parents can follow based on the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI).

AgeProtein (g/kg)
6 months-1 year1.6 g/kg or 0.7 g/pound
1-6 years1.2 g/kg or 0.55 g/pound
7-14 years1 g/kg or 0.45 g/pound

Example: a 5-year-old who weighs 40# would need ~22 grams of protein each day (40# x0.55g/pound)

List of high protein foods for picky eaters

Many different types of foods contain protein. Some contain essential amino acids (the ones that our bodies can’t make) and some contain non-essential amino acids (the ones our bodies can make.) 

Kids who eat a variety of foods from different food groups are likely getting all the essential amino acids they need, therefore, this isn’t something you should stress over. If you have an extremely picky eater, missing out on multiple food groups, be mindful of what protein sources they do consume. 

Protein foods for kids that contain all 9 essential amino acids

  • Milk (animal and soy)
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Eggs 
  • Animal meat
  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Chia seeds
  • Amaranth
  • Ezekial Bread (combo of sprouted grain and legume)
  • Beans with rice (together they are a complete protein)
  • Peanut butter sandwich (bread & PB together makes a complete protein)

Protein foods that contain some but not all essential amino acids

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Almond butter
  • Seed butter
  • Hummus
  • Edamame
  • Beans
  • Pastas (regular and legume pastas)
  • Bread/other grains

Getting a mixture of protein sources each day will ensure your kids are meeting their essential amino acid/protein needs. Some protein sources are also more iron-rich than others. If you have a picky eater that doesn’t eat much meat, this post on iron-rich foods for kids may be helpful.

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High protein meal ideas for picky eaters

I don’t recommend counting protein grams for your kids, that would just be stressful. However, it is nice to have a general idea of how much protein is in some of your picky eater’s favorite foods. 

Here is a list of the protein content in foods commonly liked by picky eaters, the actual amount does vary some by brand:

Food ItemGrams of Protein (approximate)
Peanut butter (1 Tbsp)4 g
Chicken nugget (1)3 g
Meat (1 oz)7 g
Milk (Animal-based/soy)  (1 cup)8 g
Egg (1)7 g
Yogurt cup (6 oz)8 g
Yogurt tube (1)2-3 g
Drinkable yogurt (1)3 g
String Cheese7 g
Cheddar cheese (1” cube)4 g
Cheerios, Dry (1 cup)3.5 g
Plain pasta (1 cup)8 g
Bread (1 slice)2-3 g
Hummus (1 Tbsp)1.2 g
Snap pea crisps (22 pieces)4 g 
Trail mix (½ cup)10 g 
Chomps meat stick (1)9 g

As you can see from the protein content list above, it usually isn’t too hard to get enough protein into your kids, even if they are picky eaters.

Protein rich sliders for kids

Sample menu of protein-rich foods for picky eaters

Using our example from above of the 5-year-old who needed 22 g of protein each day, let me show you how this could be met.

  • Breakfast: 1 scrambled egg with toast and fruit (10 g protein)
  • Lunch: PBJ sandwich with fruit & 1 cup milk (18 g protein)
  • Dinner: Chicken nuggets (3) with ketchup, carrots & fruit & 1 cup of milk (17 g protein)

That day didn’t even include any snacks and protein needs were exceeded (45 g protein). Adding in snacks would boost the protein intake even further. While those may not be the protein sources your picky eater consumes, you can see just how easy it is to meet their protein needs by including just 1 protein-rich item at a meal.

How do I get my kid to eat more protein?

If you’re a parent of a picky eater, you’ve probably asked this question a few times. Luckily, most kids, even very picky ones, get enough protein. Looking at the lists above, if you can find 2-3 foods that your kid will eat most days, they are probably meeting their protein needs. 

How to increase your picky eater’s protein intake:

  1. Focus on the protein sources they do like and use those as a bridge to new items. For example, if they like peanut butter, try almond butter or sunflower seed butter. Add PB to crackers, to sandwiches (bread), mix it into yogurt or in smoothies, and use it as a fruit dip. 
  2. Include a protein source at each meal and snack. Providing more exposure provides more opportunities for it to be consumed. Instead of giving goldfish crackers as a snack, make a homemade trail mix with goldfish crackers, nuts or seeds, and dried fruit. 
  3. Offer snack plates with multiple options. Instead of serving their favorite meal on repeat, which may be low in protein, make a platter. Include a combination of favorite items and new items. Pita with hummus, cheese and crackers, veggies, and dip are all great snack plate combos that contain protein sources.  
  4. Lay off the pressure. If you find yourself putting extra emphasis on the protein food on their plate, try backing off a bit. Sometimes the extra attention makes them go the opposite way. Especially with toddlers and preschoolers. 
  5. Try making the protein source more interesting. Little cutouts, kabobs, fun plates, and trays just might entice a younger picky eater to give them a try. You never know until you give it a shot. Get creative where you can. 
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High protein snack list for picky eaters

I always recommend parents include protein as part of their kid’s meals and snacks along with a carbohydrate source (fruit or grains work great). This helps kids feel satisfied (full) while providing energy. Protein also helps to cut down on frequent snacking. 

Kids don’t actually need as much protein as parents think. One protein-rich food is more than enough at a meal and snack to help them reach their protein needs. 

  1. Cheese & fruit, crackers or nuts 
  2. Yogurt (I like to focus on probiotic-rich yogurt for kids) & low sugar cereal or granola
  3. Milk on its own 
  4. Milk & cereal
  5. Hard-boiled egg & fruit or crackers 
  6. Snap pea crisps & hummus
  7. Pretzles or pita & hummus 
  8. Carrots and hummus
  9. ½ peanut butter sandwich & milk 
  10. Nut or seed butter on crackers, toast, or pancakes
  11. Chomps or beef jerky & crackers or fruit
  12. Fruit & PB yogurt dip
  13. Homemade trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, cereal)
  14. Crunchy chickpeas 
  15. Protein-rich bars (perfect bar, paleo bar, cliff kid z bar protein etc.)

Many of the above options are picky-eater friendly, so if you are looking for high-protein foods for picky eaters this list should help!

Kids protein pancake

High protein snacks for picky eaters ‘on the go’

As a mom of two little ones who always seem to be hungry when we have somewhere to be, I love a good on-the-go snack. 

These are some of my favorite high-protein snacks on the go for both kids and adults. You can pair them with fruit, crackers, pita chips, pretzels, baby carrots or celery sticks, etc. For kids, be mindful of their age, some of these could be choking hazards for kids under 5. 

High protein foods for picky eaters

Summary

Our bodies need high-quality protein sources each day to function. Kids are growing and developing at a rapid rate so protein is especially important for them. Luckily, most kids, even picky eaters get more than enough protein each day. 

The best high-protein foods for picky eaters are the ones they will consume. Meet them where they are at and use their favorites as a bridge to new ones. 

Including one protein source at each meal and snack, while varying the type of protein, is the best way for kids to meet their protein needs. This will also help them feel full and prevent frequent snacking because of hunger. 

When possible, focus on high-quality protein sources such as lean meats, beans, and legumes, dairy, or a good alternative such as soy or pea protein. Mixing up the protein sources will also ensure all their essential amino acid needs are met. 

Help for your picky eater

If you are struggling with a picky eater at home and you need more support from a pediatric dietitian, I would love to help you. You can book a 1:1 appointment to work with me here. If you found this article helpful, I’d love for you to share it with a friend who might benefit as well.

Pediatric Dietitian Jessica Gust

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Contact

Jessica Gust, MS, RDN
P 805.550.1724 F 805.476.1435
[email protected]
405 E. Branch St. #102 Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

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