Needing protein ideas for lunch boxes that aren’t meat? I’ve got 50 of them that your kids will love!
One of the questions I’m asked most about lunch packing: What can I pack that has protein in it?
Meat and poultry is a no-brainer source. But some kids don’t like meat or are vegetarian or vegan–and if that’s your kid, you may be stumped about what to pack.
The good news: Lots of foods have protein in them, including ones that may surprise you.
More good news: Kids don’t need loads of protein to be healthy. I included a chart at the bottom of this post with just how much your kid needs. But in the meantime, rest assured that serving balanced meals and snacks means your kids have plenty of chances to get protein–and other nutrients they need too!
Here are some ideas to get you started. Please note: The protein amounts shown for each food are based on estimates using the USDA Nutrient Database or product labels. The label on your particular bread, cereal, pasta, or yogurt may list a different amount. I DO NOT recommend obsessing over or counting up each gram of protein your child gets. This is just to give you an idea of foods that have a little bit, a little more, or a lot of protein!
50 Protein Ideas for Lunch Boxes
- Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon: 2 grams
- Hummus, 2 tablespoons: 2 grams
- Broccoli, 3/4 cup: 2 grams
- Popcorn, 2 cups: 2 grams
- White rice, 1/2 cup: 2 grams
- Nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon: 2 grams
- Waffle, 1 freezer waffle: 2 grams
- Granola bar: 2 grams
- Yogurt tube: 2 grams
- Peas, 1/2 cup: 2 grams
- Red Lentil Cookie, 1 cookie: 3 grams
- Whole grain crackers, 15 crackers: 3 grams
- Tortilla, 8-inch: 3 grams
- Nut-Free Snack Ball, 1 ball: 3 grams
- Whole Wheat Banana Bread, 1 slice: 3 grams
- Whole grain cereal, 3/4 cup: 4 grams
- Refried beans, 1/2 cup: 4 grams
- Yogurt pouch: 4 grams
- Quinoa, cooked, 1/2 cup: 4 grams
- Oatmeal, 1 packet: 4 grams
- Broccoli & Cauliflower Bites, 2 bites: 4 grams
- Yogurt, half cup: 5 grams
- Roasted chickpeas, 1/4 cup: 5 grams
- Veggie Nuggets, 2 nuggets: 5 grams
- Nut-Free Snack Bar, 1 bar: 5 grams
- String cheese: 6 grams
- Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce in cubes: 6 grams
- Whole grain bread, 1 slice: 6 grams
- Hard-boiled egg, 1 large: 6 grams
- Chocolate Tofu pudding: 6 grams
- Pistachios, 1/4 cup: 6 grams
- Sunflower seed kernels, 1/4 cup: 6 grams
- California roll, 5 pieces: 6 grams
- Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons: 7 grams
- Sunflower seed butter, 2 tablespoons: 7 grams
- Peanut Butter Quinoa Bar, 1 bar: 7 grams
- Pasta, 1 heaping cup: 7 grams
- Milk, dairy or soy, 1 cup: 8 grams
- Lentil soup, 1 cup: 8 grams
- Vegetarian burger or vegetarian “chicken” patty: 9 grams
- Edamame, 1 cup in pods: 9 grams
- Tofu, 3 ounces (about a quarter of a block): 9 grams
- Macaroni and cheese, 1 cup: 9 grams
- Banana Oatmeal Cup: 9 grams
- Bagel, plain: 9 grams
- Cheese tortellini, 3/4 cup: 10 grams
- Yogurt smoothie, 7-oz. bottle: 10 grams
- Black beans, 1/4 cup: 11 grams
- Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup: 12 grams
- Slice of leftover cheese pizza, from 14″ pizza: 12 grams
How much protein do kids need?
The daily totals I show below are based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), which are the levels of intake that meet the needs for most healthy people of that particular age, life-stage, and gender. Consider these the minimum amounts needed to meet basic needs. As you can see, the RDAs for children aren’t very high, and kids can get there pretty fast with food. Government surveys show that most children, like adults, get well above the RDA.
|AGE||GRAMS OF PROTEIN/DAY|
|14-18||52 (boys), 46 (girls)|
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