This list of easy proteins for toddlers will ensure that even your pickiest tots will get what they need! All of those can be self-fed, so that if you have a jumpy kid like mine, they’ll still get the right nutrition. Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.
This post was originally published in June 2014 and has been updated.
Toddlers by nature are picky eaters. While they like to experiment with unique foods, if they sense it’s something you WANT them to eat, they seem to always refuse to try it.
The Institute of Medicine encourages children ages 1 to 3 to consume at least 13 grams of protein every day.
Ensuring that M gets proper nutrition is especially important to me, as he always seems to be “too skinny”. While I know he’s got the right genes for that, and he’s an active toddler too, I still want to make sure he’s getting the right balance of food. As long as I know I’m giving him what I need to, I’m okay with this.
I see so many lists that encourage the eating of vegetables, which made me think I might be unique. M can live solely off veggies if I allowed it, but for us proteins seem to be the problem. I asked some fellow mamas, did some research on protein content, and put together this list of easy proteins for toddlers.
One of our issues happened on days that we made something that M couldn’t feed himself. He hasn’t quite mastered using utensils yet, so on days when I made a lentil soup, for example, I needed to find an alternative for him. All of these easy proteins for toddlers can be self-fed too!
Disclaimer: I am not an expert, pediatrician, or nutritionist. The list above is based on some quick research and crowd-sourcing. Always go according to your doctor’s dietary recommendations first. The amounts listed above are all approximate, primarily based off the nutrition facts on foods I have in my home. This post contains affiliate links.
10 Easy proteins for toddlers:
1. Cheese: While it’s high in sodium (making it a less than ideal option) it is high in protein too. It’s a great way to sneak protein into your child’s snack instead of giving nutritionally-empty snacks.
- 2 slices of American cheese: 5g of protein
- String cheese or cheese stick: 6g of protein
2. Frozen Fish Sticks: It’s an easy finger food, and a way to “hide” a food that many children won’t touch.
- Tip: opt for the kind that has real fish inside, not some “garbage” mixture.
- 5 Sticks: 8 grams of protein
3. Meat balls: While this may not be “easy” it freezes very nicely. The next time you make some for dinner, double the recipe and freeze half in plastic bags divided by portion. That way, you have it available when you need a quick protein for your toddler.
- Try this oven recipe to make the recipe easier
- Protein content varies, depending on the other ingredients involved. Two medium meatballs have approximately 7 grams.
- Tip: swap out ground meat for chicken for even more protein!
4. Hard boiled eggs: I always keep a half dozen or so cooked and handy!
- Tip: learn how your child likes it! M is more likely to eat the yolk as well if I give it whole, and he knows how to bite into it and eat it properly. If I scramble it, he doesn’t always eat it. But if your child eats it scrambled it’s another great way to get the yolk down!
- Give it for breakfast to start the day on the right foot.
- Don’t worry if your child eats only the whites. That has plenty of protein too.
- 1 large egg: 6g of protein
- 1 egg white: 3.6 grams
5. Legumes: I hesitated to give this to M because of the shape and size, but some fellow moms convinced me to try squashing them between my fingers before giving it. Make sure it’s well-cooked and soft, or, even easier, pop open a can.
- 1 T chickpeas: 2.4g of protein
- 1 T black beans: 2.6g of protein
- 1 T white beans: 2.9 g of protein
6.Chicken: Children are far less picky than you might think, and don’t need fancy recipes when it comes to chicken. You can simply dump a leg in the oven with some duck sauce, or barbecue sauce (or plain) and it will be delicious. You can also microwave chicken if you’re short on time, but be very careful that it is properly cooked through. Just remove it from the bones and your toddler can self-feed it.
- 1 drumstick with skin: 23 grams of protein (so calculate a little less when removing skin)
- Pick off small, bite sized pieces and allow your toddler to self-feed.
7. Yogurt: It may come as a surprise, but yogurt is one of my toddler’s main sources of protein! He drinks it plain and unsweetened straight out of a straw cup. Make sure to use a cup with a wide straw (this is our favorite).
- Tip: if your child won’t eat it plain, mix in some unsweetened fruit purees, such as baby food fruit.
- 1 cup of plain yogurt has 10 grams of protein!
- Note: if you are focusing on iron, be aware that yogurt and other dairy-based proteins may not have the iron you need. You can focus on getting the iron from iron-rich vegetables instead.
8. Protein based chips: These chips use flowers made from legumes instead of grains. They are often high in sodium too, so limit them. Like the cheese, they are a great way to sneak some protein into snack time.
- Simply 7 Lentil chips: This is a favorite of ours and has 1 oz has 3 grams of protein
9. Protein-rich spreads: If you’re giving a sandwich, why not add a good dose of protein?
- 2 T natural peanut butter (no sugar added): 8 grams of protein. If your child is allergic to peanuts but can have other nuts, try almond butter.
- 1 T tahini: 2.6 grams of protein. Thin it a little to make it a little more of a spread.
- When all else fails: cream cheese and hummus also have some protein.
10. Tofu: Children will surprise you! Many children will eat tofu, and it’s easy to bake. Cut into small cubes to serve.
- 1/2 cup tofu: 10 grams of protein.
If all else, fails, aim for protein-rich vegetables instead over those without. You can get a gram or so of protein into a serving of broccoli or string beans, as opposed to cucumber, which has only trace amounts.
I also try to “sneak” a few extra grams into non-protein dishes. Think: an extra egg in a batter, cheese in mashed potatoes, and sesame seeds on sauteed veggies.
I hope you enjoyed this list and I hope it helps you provide better food options for your toddler!
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What easy proteins for toddlers can you add to the list? Share your favorites in the comments below!