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Easy protein options for lunchboxes and snacks

My youngest two are terrible picky eaters. My oldest two were as well, but they have luckily managed to grow out of that phase. Protein foods seem to be one of the trickiest food groups to serve. So I am constantly looking for easy protein options that I can pack in lunchboxes and or serve as snacks. I’ve managed to find a few that my picky easters will actually eat (or at least not whine about).

  • Greek yogurt has more protein, and often less added sugar, than regular yogurt. You can find them in individual sized tubs, tubes, and pouches making snack time easy!
  • Deli meat roll ups are easy enough for kids to make themselves. The meat can be eaten by itself, wrapped around string cheese for a serving of dairy, or wrapped around vegetables. 
  • Hard boiled eggs can be made in advance and safely kept in the fridge for up to one week. One large egg is equivalent to one ounce of protein. Peel them ahead of time for a super easy lunch for little ones.
  • Hummus is a creamy dip made from chickpeas and tahini, a pasta made from sesame seeds. A two ounce container contains roughly 4 grams of protein. Pair with some veggie sticks or whole grain pretzels for a great high fiber snack!
  • Nuts and seeds contain protein along with fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Prepare them in advance by packing them in ready-to-go two ounce plastic containers. 
  • Peanut butter and other nut butters are a great protein option. You can even buy ready to go pouches at the store. One tablespoon of peanut butter is considered 1 oz of protein. SunButter is available for children with peanut and tree nut allergies.
  • String cheese is packed with both protein and calcium, helping kids build strong muscles AND strong bones! Individual packaging makes it an easy, no mess snack to pack in lunch boxes or grab when on the run.
  • Tuna fish is not only high protein, but it also has amazing omega-3 fatty acids! You can find individual serving pouches that are safe on pantry shelves for a long time, so no refrigeration needed until the pouch is opened. My picky eaters don’t really eat tuna yet, but my older boys love these handy pouches.

Protein is one of the three major macronutrients that we eat. It helps us build muscle, provides us with some energy, and performs MANY functions in the body.   

Along with muscle building, the building blocks of the protein foods we eat are used to:

  • make red blood cells, 
  • make hormones needed for proper growth and development,
  • form enzymes that we need to break down foods and perform basic body functions, and
  • create antibodies so we can fight off infection. 

Children ages 4-6 need roughly 3-5 ounces of protein daily for proper growth and development. Children between the ages of 7-12 need 4-5.5 ounces each day. 

Check out these Village Table recipes for more easy protein options:

Kid Friendly Trail Mix
Kid Friendly Trail Mix
Peanut Butter Oat Bars

Jessica Barnes, PhD, RDN, LD

Dr. Jessica Barnes received her PhD in nutrition from Texas Woman's University. Her research focused on food preference development and creating materials to help preschoolers become familiar with healthy foods. She has worked with families and communities as a clinical and community Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

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