A question we get a lot is, “do kids need more protein?” A lot of parents worry that their children aren’t consuming enough protein or iron, especially when they go through the anti-meat phase. Mom and dietitian, Sally, has put together this guide to help! Plus, she’s included 20 protein-rich foods for school lunches.

Do Kids Need More Protein?

How To Get Your Kid To Eat More Protein

A lot of parents worry about protein. They’re concerned their kids aren’t getting enough, especially if they don’t love meat but really, REALLY love carbs. And it’s no wonder parents worry since there seems to be an obsession around protein in food marketing.

That’s especially true with the explosion of meatless burgers and plant-based protein products that include everything from faux beef and chicken to plant-based tuna and eggs! The positive is that these plant-based products will deliver a lot of protein, and they’re likely easier on the environment, too.

Keep in mind that unlike traditional veggie burgers, which are usually made from beans, some of these are made from highly processed ingredients. And some have nutritional stats similar to regular fast food burgers.

So what’s the bottom line? Just because something is plant-based doesn’t mean it’s automatically wholesome and healthy. It’s always smart to read labels and ingredient lists, focus on mostly whole foods, and treat any highly-processed food like an occasional item; not an everyday thing.

And if you’re worried about protein, here’s some reassurance: Though protein is crucial for growing kids, most kids get plenty of it every day, even if they don’t eat meat.

How Much Protein Should My Child Be Eating in a Day?

These are the RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances), the levels that meet the needs for most healthy people of that age and the minimum amounts to meet basic needs:

  • Ages 2-3: 13 grams
  • Ages 4-8: 19 grams
  • Ages 9-13: 34 grams
  • Ages 14-18: 52 grams (boys), 46 grams (girls)

Beans are a great source of protein. Learn how to add protein to meals using canned beans here!

20 Protein-Rich Foods That Are Totally Lunchbox-Friendly

While those averages listed above offer parents a rough guideline of how much protein a child needs, there’s no need to count up grams or stress about the exact numbers. Protein actually adds up pretty fast in a child’s day because it’s found in so many different foods.

Want proof? Here’s a list of 20 protein-rich foods:

Protein-Rich Foods
  1. Hummus, 2 tablespoons: 2 grams
  2. Broccoli, 3/4 cup: 2 grams
  3. Popcorn, 2 cups: 2 grams
  4. Avocado, 1/2: 2 grams
  5. Whole grain crackers, 15 crackers: 3 grams
  6. Tortilla, 8-inch: 3 grams
  7. Yogurt, half cup: 5 grams
  8. Roasted chickpeas, 1/4 cup: 5 grams
  9. String cheese: 6 grams
  10. Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce in cubes: 6 grams
  11. Whole grain bread, 1 slice: 6 grams
  12. Hard-boiled egg, 1 large: 6 grams
  13. Vegetable roll, 5 pieces: 6 grams
  14. Sunflower seed butter, 2 tablespoons: 7 grams
  15. Milk, dairy or soy, 1 cup: 8 grams
  16. Vegetarian burger or vegetarian “chicken” patty: 9 grams
  17. Edamame, 1 cup in pods: 9 grams
  18. Tofu, 3 ounces (about a quarter of a block): 9 grams
  19. Cheese tortellini, 3/4 cup: 10 grams
  20. Slice of leftover cheese pizza, from 14″ pizza: 12 grams

If you’re stumped for protein ideas when packing lunches — especially if your kid doesn’t like sandwiches, attends a nut-free school, or is gluten-free — some of these ideas might work for you! And you can find even more protein ideas here.

Protein Lunchbox Ideas

Need some lunchbox inspiration? In addition to the list above, check out these protein-packed lunchbox ideas:

If you are looking for the perfect after-school snack that is loaded with protein, check out our dairy-filled kid-friendly snack board.