12 Non-Meat Protein Sources for Kids
If you have a picky eater who doesn’t like meat, and you’re concerned about protein intake, learn all about the top nourishing non-meat protein sources below!
Even if your family isn’t vegetarian, you might notice that your child doesn’t seem to enjoy meat.
It could be that she finds meat difficult to chew. Or that he hasn’t found the way he likes to eat it yet. Your child could also be making a connection between a love for animals and what they are eating.
Thankfully, it’s not necessary for your kids to eat meat to get the adequate protein in their diet. We are breaking down the protein requirements for kids, and how you can meet them, even if your kids aren’t eating meat.
How Much Protein Food Does My Child Need Daily?
According to the nutritional guidelines for Americans, kids between 2-13 years old need from 2-5 servings of protein per day (see MyPlate Servings Per Day Chart). In general, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent from the Protein Foods Group. (source)
Protein is the building block of our muscles. The latest recommendations are 1/2 gram of protein per pound of body weight. So, if your child is 50 lbs, 25 grams of protein per day is sufficient for all his needs! A 100 pound child would need 50 grams of protein.
Top 12 Non-Meat Protein Sources for Kids
The following is 12 of our favorite non-meat protein sources that kids actually like!
1. Almonds 1 ounce: 6 grams
We know nuts are a great source of protein, but almonds tend to be a favorite for kids. They taste great roasted and raw. We love eating almonds plain, in trail mix, blended to make almond butter for spreads or recipes, in smoothies, or blended into power balls,
2. Edamame: 1 cup = 17 grams
Edamame is a favorite snack for kids! Heat it up and let them pop them out of the pod, add the shelled edamame to stir fry, and try it in a dip!
3. Tofu: 1/2 cup = 10 grams
We have many ways kids will eat tofu! Try these crispy baked nuggets, in a smoothie, or combined with pesto pasta!
4. Peanut butter: 2 tablespoons = 8 grams
Blend your own peanut butter, add peanut butter to smoothies, in oatmeal, spread on sandwiches, dip with apples, or even in popsicles!
5. Quinoa: 1 cup cooked= 8 grams
Quinoa is one of very few plant foods to have the complete profile of all 20 amino acids.We have so many ways kids love quinoa! Try fried quinoa for dinner, cheesy quinoa cakes for breakfast, Quinoa coated chicken nuggets for lunch, quinoa granola bars, or even quinoa pizza bites!
6. Flax seeds: 2 tablespoons ground = 3 grams
We’ve long used flax seed for all sorts of recipes for our kids! The flavor is not overwhelming and it can be incorporated into foods like baked goods like muffins, smoothies, and even french toast.
7. Chickpeas: 1 cup = 12 grams
If your kids haven’t tried Roasted chickpeas yet,we have 4 flavors they won’t be able to resist! Another easy way to eat chickpeas is blending it up to make hummus. You can dip hummus with breads, pretzels, vegetables, or even use it as a sandwich spread. Really get the kids excited by making this special CHOCOLATE hummus!
8. Eggs: 1 Egg = 6 grams of protein
- Color eggs all year, not just at easter time. It’s more fun for children to eat a pink or purple egg, than a plain white one.
- We like “one eyed monsters” for a healthy breakfast tip . We cut a circle out of the middle of bread, spray both sides of the bread with butter-flavored cooking spray, lay the bread on a hot griddle, and crack the egg in the middle of the bread. Cook thorougly on both sides. Also grill slightly the cut out circle of bread and serve both the “face with the one eye egg” and the extra bread.
- Stuff a pita pocket with scrambled eggs. A pita can be easier to handle and hold. Pita pockets are also high in fiber.
- Some kids don’t like the taste of eggs, but they love french toast. Mix two to three eggs in a shallow dish. Add a touch of cinnamon, some vanilla extract, and some low-fat milk. Dip the slices of whole-wheat bread into the egg mixture. Make sure to get a healthy coating of the egg mixture to ensure maximum egg benefits.
9. Beans (Legumes) 1 cup = 15 grams
Beans added to Mexican dishes like tacos and cheesy chili is usually a favorite for kids. But we have also found kids that enjoy their beans blended into a dip, regular dip. When serving beans over rice, melt some cheese on top. Melted cheese always makes things tastier.
sunflower seeds- shelling and snacking, sunflower butter
10. Sunflower seeds: 1 cup (with hulls) = 10 grams
If your kids play baseball, they’ve likely had a bag of sunflower seeds in the dugout! Kids who can take the shells of their own sunflower seeds usually enjoy them. Grab shelled sunflower seeds and add them to trail mix, granola bars, or sprinkle them on salads. For the tastiest way to do sunflower seeds, blend them up for a dip or spread!
11. Peas: 1 cup = 8 grams
Have you ever seen those kids that eat frozen peas! I always thought it was hilarious when toddlers pick up peas, fresh or frozen, and gobbled them up. Now, I like to add peas to pasta, salads, potato bar, pea pesto,and shepherds pie.
12. Dairy : 1 cup =4-20 grams
Finally, and possibly the most kid friendly high protein food has got to be dairy. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese have the highest amount of protein at 20 grams per cup! Mix cottage cheese with fresh fruit for a breakfast or a snack. Use Greek yogurt to make popsicles or ice cream, smoothies, or fruit dip.
There really are so many more, and we could have made 12 sub-categories out of the dairy section alone. But, we’d love to hear some of your favorite non-meat protein foods that your kids love, or how you use some of the foods we recommend in your families diet.
READ NEXT ==> 28 Breakfast ideas that are high in protein
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
Maybe if you kid no longer likes meat they are super smart! Maybe they have made the connection to the fact it’s a dead animal. Thank you for the non-meat protein list!
My 8 year old girl, won’t eat any of the above mention, although she eats chicken, she won’t eat it everyday, do you think a protein powder flavourless would be ok. She loves fruit which is what she has every day. She still only weighs 23kg , I think she could be underweight. And she does gymnastics, so she needs to have more strength. She does have a 6 pack.
Hi Danielle, thanks for reaching out. We typically don’t recommend protein powder for kids, because it’s better to meet kids’ nutritional needs with a variety of whole foods. I hope you’ll keep offering different protein foods often, and bring any big concerns about your daughter’s weight to her pediatrician. Here’s a fantastic article I found that shows you some visuals for how much protein kids really need… it’s possible your daughter is getting more than you think:
Hello, what would you recommend for a vegan diet for babies to older child?
Hi Annalise, we recommend a balanced diet for kids, because we believe the best health outcomes across a lifetime come from eating a wide variety of foods. We don’t specifically recommend a strictly vegan diet for this reason.
Thanks for describing these non-meat protein sources for children. They will surely be helpful to children.
I am a vegetarian. I was looking for this type of article. Thanks a lot
my son does not eat meat since toddler. he does not like texture and the only type he eats is BBQ grilled style. he does not eat vegetable which changed later in years. he does like white basmati rice. any idea what food i can cook.
Hi Robin, I know how much of a roller coaster feeding kids can be! Just keep offering a variety of foods prepared in a variety of different ways, and model healthy eating for your son (Let him see you eat well!) Chances are, he’ll start to gain more food acceptance skills and grow into a balanced eater.
My kids and I have been vegan for 2 years. We eat a lot of the things on this list for protein minus the eggs and dairy. Dairy even organic has hormones in it so we use non dairy. You could also add hemp and flax seeds. Both are tasteless and add a ton of protein. If you are having trouble getting them to eat more fruits and vegetables make a smoothie and add nut butters, hemp and flax seeds. No protein powders necessary.
Can’t have dairy or eggs
Quinoa, legumes, and tofu are good options!
Thank you so much for this, I appreciate this so much!
My child is extremely picking with his food. His has sensitive taste and smell which tends to link to what he will eat. Any ideas how I can encourage a more nutritional diet. Thanks
This is a good place to start: https://www.superhealthykids.com/my-best-strategy-for-turning-a-picky-eater/