Inside: Get 35+ ideas for protein snacks for kids, plus a printable list to hang on the fridge or take the grocery store.
There’s a lot of buzz around protein, which may get your wondering: Are my kids getting enough?
You can cross one worry from your list, because they likely are.
But it’s still smart to think about protein at snack time. For starters, protein is a particularly filling nutrient, making snacks more satisfying.
Real-world translation: They’re not asking for another snack exactly seven minutes after their last one.
This is why kids need protein
Protein is vital to kids to fuel all the growth and change happening in their bodies. Protein helps the body do things like make hormones, build muscle tissue, and keep the immune system strong.
Plus, many protein-rich foods contain other nutrients kids need, like iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D.
Here’s how much protein kids need
These are the minimum recommended amount of protein for different ages:
- Ages 1-2: 13 grams
- Ages 4-8: 19 grams
- Ages 9-13: 34 grams
- Ages 14-18 (girls): 46 grams
- Ages 14-28 (boys): 52 grams
Remember, these protein requirements are the minimum amounts needed for health. These recommended amounts (called RDAs) aren’t very high, so it doesn’t take long to get there with food (check out these visuals to see how quickly it adds up).
Government surveys find that most kids get enough protein.
What foods have protein?
The categories of foods that contain protein are:
- Meat, poultry, fish, and soy: These all tend to be rich in high-quality protein.
- 3 ounces ground beef: 15 grams
- 3 ounces salmon: 15 grams
- Dairy products: This is another source of high-quality protein.
- 1 cup milk: 8 grams
- 1 slice cheese: 5 grams
- Nuts and seeds
- 1 ounce almonds: 6 grams
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds: 2 grams
- Grains: Whole grains, which contain the entire grain and haven’t been stripped during processing, tend to have more protein than enriched (but enriched grains still contain protein).
- 1 slice whole wheat bread: 4 grams (versus about 2 grams for white)
- 1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta: 8 grams
- Vegetables: The amounts are lower than foods like meat and dairy, but they still contain some protein. Peas, edamame, beans/lentils, and potatoes are veggies with higher amounts of protein.
- Medium baked potato: 5 grams
- 1/2 cup beans: 7 grams
What foods don’t have protein?
I show fresh fruit in some of the photos because it’s a good food to pair with high-protein snacks. But even though it contains a bunch of important nutrients like vitamins and fiber (and is an overall terrific part of a child’s diet), fruit doesn’t typically contain much protein.
A cup of sliced avocado has about three grams, but most popular fruits like berries, oranges, and bananas contain very little protein, about one gram per serving.
40 Easy + Nutrient-Packed Protein Snacks For Kids
This list of healthy snacks is built around protein-rich foods. Though they’re in different categories based on the amount of protein they contain, remember that most kids get plenty of protein–and you don’t need to obsess over number or count up grams.
Note: Some foods on this list–including whole nuts and seeds, spoonfuls of peanut butter, string cheese, and crackers with seeds–are considered choking hazards for kids under the age of four. See this guidance from the USDA.
Protein Snacks for Kids (5-9 grams each)
1. Hard-boiled egg
Both the white and the yolk contain protein. So when you’re serving eggs, don’t toss the yolk!
2. Bowl of shredded wheat cereal with milk
Cereals vary on the amount of protein they’ve got, so check labels. Trying to cut back on sugar? Use my “halfsies” trick and combine half unsweetened with half sweetened cereal.
3. Quarter-cup soy nuts
Roasted soybeans are crispy and loaded with about 9 grams of protein in a handful.
4. Half-cup pistachios in shells
Research shows that pistachios are actually a complete protein, and they’re one of the highest protein nuts.
5. Peanut Butter Spoon
Couldn’t get easier than this. Scoop a spoonful of any nut or seed butter, dot it with chocolate chips, and dig in.
6. Quarter-cup sunflower seeds
Kids can eat these plain as a snack or sprinkle them on yogurt or into trail mix.
7. Two tablespoons hummus + ½ whole wheat pita
Made from mashed chickpeas, hummus has about 2 grams of protein for a 2-tablespoon serving (here’s my recipe for Homemade Hummus).
8. Quarter-cup peanuts
It’s one of the most affordable nuts around and contains other key nutrients like vitamin E, fiber, and magnesium.
9. One packet instant oatmeal made with milk
Making oatmeal with milk is an easy way to add extra protein (plus calcium).
10. Cheese stick
It’s a good source of calcium too, which kids need as they’re building bone.
11. Two Nut-Free Snack Bites
Make these with SunButter or any nut butter. GET THE RECIPE
Quinoa is a high protein grain, and it’s a complete protein too. GET THE RECIPE
High Protein Snacks for Kids (10-15 grams each)
13. Babybel cheese + 10 Triscuit crackers
Whole grains tend to have more protein than refined (I like Triscuits because they have just three ingredients–whole grain wheat, oil, and salt).
14. Two slices deli turkey
Lean meats are an easy way to get high-quality protein.
15. Two Wasa crackers with 1 slice cheddar cheese
Zap these in the microwave to melt the cheese onto the crackers.
16. Wasa cracker with ½ packet tuna and ½ slice cheese
Tuna is a great source of protein. Top it with cheese for an easy tuna melt.
17. One-half cup cottage cheese
Cottage cheese is full of protein. Top with sliced fruit.
18. Toaster waffle spread with 2 tablespoons nut or seed butter
Serve this warm or cold, and top with sliced strawberries or bananas if you’d like.
19. One cup macaroni and cheese
Milk, cheese, and pasta add up to about 9 grams of protein per cup.
20. Two Wasa whole grain crackers + 2 tablespoons nut butter
A few chocolate chips turn this into a fun treat.
21. One cup kefir
Kefir is a fermented dairy drink that you can drink straight up or use as the base for a smoothie.
22. Hard-boiled egg + 1 glass milk (dairy or soy)
Soy milk is comparable to dairy milk when it comes to protein, with about 8 grams per cup.
23. One ounce beef jerky
Portable, shelf-stable, and loaded with about 9 grams of protein per ounce.
Dates give this shake extra natural sweetness. GET THE RECIPE
25. SunButter Banana
Spread a banana with 2 tablespoons chocolate Sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) and roll in ¼ cup granola
26. One cup roasted chickpeas
Buy these bagged or make them at home by draining and rinsing a can of chickpeas, tossing with olive oil and favorite seasonings, then roasting on a baking sheet at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes or until crispy, stirring halfway through baking. Get more chickpea ideas and recipes here.
These are a huge hit with my kids. Fill with the meat (or not) and cheese they like best. GET THE RECIPE
28. Half peanut butter sandwich
Whole grain bread tends to have more protein, but white is fine if that’s what your kids prefer.
Higher Protein Snacks For Kids (16-20 grams each)
29. 2 protein waffles with a glass of milk
Two of these waffles pack 15 grams of protein. Top with syrup, or nut butter and fruit. GET THE RECIPE (Kids prefer pancakes? Try these Protein Pancakes and pair with a glass of dairy or soy milk for 19 grams of total protein.)
30. One cup Greek yogurt
Because it’s strained, Greek yogurt has more protein per serving than regular yogurt.
31. One cup cooked chickpea pasta
Chickpea pasta has about 50 percent more protein than regular pasta, plus more fiber. Toss it with butter and Parmesan or a spoonful of jarred pesto for a hearty snack.
32. Two ounces cooked chicken breast
Each ounce of chicken packs about 8 grams of protein.
33. One cup edamame in pods with a glass of milk (dairy or soy)
The pods aren’t edible, but it’s fun for kids to pop out the nutty soybeans into their mouths. Sprinkle the pods with a little salt.
34. Vegetarian chicken nuggets
A great option whether your kid is vegetarian or not (read: Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy?).
35. One cup green peas with a glass of milk (dairy or soy)
Peas are in a group of protein-rich vegetables like edamame and beans.
36. Three-quarter cup high-protein granola with milk (dairy or soy)
Granolas labeled “protein” contain extra protein from sources like whey and soy protein isolate.
37. Green salad topped with 1 pouch salmon
Pouches and cans of fish like salmon and tuna make it easy to prep a high-protein snack or meal. One single-serving packet of salmon has 15 grams of protein.
It’s a smoothie you eat with a spoon! GET THE RECIPE
Please note: The protein amounts shown for each food are based on estimates using the USDA FoodData Central 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 snacks that have protein!
FAQ about protein for kids
How can picky eaters get enough protein?
Even if your child doesn’t eat meat or a particularly wide variety of foods, they can still get their protein through standbys that a lot of picky eaters lean on, like pasta, cheese, yogurt, milk, and bread. For example:
- Yogurt pouch: 4 grams protein
- String cheese: 6 grams protein
- Pasta, 1 heaping cup: 7 grams protein
- Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons: 7 grams protein
- Milk, 1 cup: 8 grams protein
- Macaroni and cheese, 1 cup: 9 grams protein
But it’s always important to keep tabs on growth. A child who isn’t eating well or is falling off their growth chart may need to supplement with protein powder or similar products. Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric dietitian if you’re concerned.
What’s a “complete” protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of 20 different amino acids–called the building blocks of protein. Think about them as beads on a string. Just like you can take beads off a string and arrange them in different ways, you can rearrange amino acids to make different kinds of proteins.
The body can make some of those 20 amino acids, but nine of them must come from the food we eat. “Complete proteins” or “high-quality proteins” contain all nine of those “essential” amino acids we need to get from food.
Meat and animal foods are complete proteins, but so are these plant-based proteins: quinoa, soy, and pistachios.
That doesn’t mean that foods that are incomplete proteins aren’t good for us. Eating all different kinds of protein foods throughout the day gives the body the amino acids it needs.
How about protein powder at snack time?
Protein powder is an easy and convenient way to get protein and is fine occasionally. Keep in mind that protein powder tends to contain a lot of ingredients that make it a fairly processed product. But if your child eats a very limited diet, a protein powder may be helpful.
What if my kid doesn’t drink milk?
Milk products–whether whole or skim, flavored or plain–are rich in high-quality protein. If your child doesn’t like milk (or can’t drink it because of an allergy, intolerance, or vegan diet) you can swap in soy milk. It’s the only plant-based milk with comparable stats to dairy milk. Almond milk, for instance, contains just one gram of protein per glass. Same for oat milk.
How can I get more protein into my child’s lunchbox?
If you feel like your child’s lunches are light on protein, especially if they don’t eat sandwiches, rest assured: There are a lot of protein foods for lunch boxes that aren’t meat. Get 50 Non-Meat Protein Ideas For Lunchboxes
Does my kid athlete need more protein?
Yes. Athletes need protein to build and rebuild muscle and supply energy. Get more information about protein and teen athletes here. If you need more snack ideas for post-game, check out 21 Nutritious Sports Snacks For Kids.