High Protein Foods for Picky Eaters

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Struggling to find high protein foods for picky eaters? You’re not alone. Many athletes parents of athletes face this challenge daily since kids need protein rich foods in their diets.

Protein is essential for growth, development, and muscle repair, especially for active kids. But how do you make protein-rich foods appealing to your athlete?

In this guide, we’ll dive into practical, tasty ways to introduce more protein into your athlete’s diet, while also making mealtime fun and engaging.

high protein foods for picky eaters

Tips for picky eaters to enjoy high protein foods

Raising an athlete often means paying extra attention to their diet, ensuring they get enough protein for their active lifestyle. However, picky eaters pose a unique challenge. The key is to introduce protein rich foods in a way that’s both appealing and varied.

Here are some nutrition tips to encourage high protein foods for picky eaters:

Involve them in cooking and shopping

Kids are more likely to eat what they’ve helped prepare and pick out at the grocery store. Use this opportunity to teach them about the protein content of different foods and how they benefit their body.

Creative presentation

Fun shapes, colorful arrangements, and playful names can make protein-rich foods more attractive. A few ways to do this would be to make “egg muffins” with eggs, cheese, and veggies, or cut cheese slices into stars and hearts.

Mix with favorites

Incorporate high-protein ingredients into meals they already love. For example, you can add shredded chicken to pasta, cheese to pizza, blend cottage cheese into a smoothie, or peanut butter to pancakes.

Offer variety

Regularly introduce new protein sources to prevent boredom and expand their palate. Have your athlete try different types of fish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, tofu, or tempeh prepared with their favorite sauces or side dishes.

Positive reinforcement

Praise their willingness to try new foods, however small the bite. Avoid forcing, bribing, or punishing them for not eating. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of eating protein, such as feeling strong, healthy, and energetic.

Highest protein foods

Understanding the protein content in common foods is crucial for planning meals. Here’s a table detailing high-protein foods, their serving sizes, and protein content, based on the USDA database:

FoodProtein Content per ServingServing Size
Chicken Breast31g3.5 ounces
Turkey29g3.5 ounces
Pork Loin26g3.5 ounces
Salmon25g3.5 ounces
Tuna Salad (Canned)20g3.5 ounces
Canned Chicken21g3.5 ounces
Greek Yogurt10g6 ounces
Cottage Cheese14g1/2 cup
Edamame17g1 cup (cooked)
Beef Jerky20g1 ounce
Quinoa8g1 cup (cooked)
Lentils9g1/2 cup (cooked)
Milk8g1 cup
Chickpeas15g1 cup (cooked)
Peanut Butter8g2 tablespoons
Almonds6g1 ounce
Eggs6g1 large egg
Swiss Cheese8g1 ounce
Cheddar Cheese7g1 ounce
Mozzarella Cheese7g1 ounce
Pumpkin Seeds5g1 ounce
Chia Seeds5g2 tablespoons
Parmesan Cheese10g1 ounce
Black Beans15g1 cup (cooked)

High protein packed foods ideas for picky eaters

Now that you know some of the best sources of protein, how do you make them appealing to your picky eater?

Here are some examples of high-protein foods and how to make them tasty and fun:

Greek yogurt

Rich and creamy, Greek yogurt is a delightful source of protein. It’s perfect for breakfast bowls, mixed with fruits and granola for a nutritious start. You can also make it into a fun dip for fruits or veggies. 

For example, you can mix Greek yogurt with honey and cinnamon, or with ranch seasoning and herbs.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese can be a game-changer for protein intake. It’s also a great late evening snack or dessert. Try creating parfaits, mixing it with fruits, or using it as a spread on crackers.

Encourage your young athlete to mix in their favorite fruits or a drizzle of honey. You can also make cottage cheese pancakes, muffins, or cheesecake for a protein-packed treat.

Eggs

Eggs are incredibly versatile. Involve your child in making scrambled eggs, omelets, or frittatas with their choice of veggies and cheese. For younger athletes, try making fun shapes with egg molds, or use cookie cutters to make egg-in-a-hole. 

Serve eggs in a variety of ways such as hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs, or egg salad for a quick and easy snack.

Peanut butter

Peanut butter is not just nutritious but also immensely popular with kids. Spread it on toast, mix it into oatmeal, or use it to make no-bake peanut butter balls. Kids can enjoy making their own peanut butter sandwiches or dipping apple slices into it. 

You can also make peanut butter smoothies, cookies, or brownies for a delicious dessert.

Cheese

Incorporate cheese into meals for added protein and calcium. Whether it’s sprinkled over salads, melted in sandwiches, or used in baking, cheese is often a kid favorite. You can also make cheese sticks or cubes for a simple snack. 

Try different varieties of cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, or feta, and pair them with fruits, nuts, or crackers.

Milk

Milk is an easy addition to a child’s diet. Use it in cereals, smoothies, or just as a drink. High protein milk boosts protein and calcium content. Flavored milk can also be an occasional treat and it makes a great post game snack. 

Soy or almond milk are great high protein milk alternatives (depending on the brand) for those who prefer non-dairy options. You can also make homemade hot chocolate, milkshakes, or pudding with milk.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are great for snacking or as additions to meals. Create a custom trail mix with your child, choosing their favorite nuts and seeds, and maybe even adding a bit of dark chocolate. Boost carbohydrate content by mixing in some dry cereal.

Granola bars, protein bars or energy bites with nuts and seeds. Sprinkle them over salads, yogurt, or oatmeal for extra crunch and protein.

Oats and quinoa

Oats and quinoa are excellent bases for creative meals. Make oatmeal or quinoa bowls with a variety of toppings, allowing kids to choose their favorites. These can be sweet with fruits and honey, or savory with veggies and cheese. 

You can also make oat or quinoa pancakes, muffins, or cookies for a hearty breakfast or snack.

multiple bowls with oatmeal and blueberries, yogurt and blueberry

Beans and lentils

Beans and lentils are protein-rich and versatile. Involve your child in making bean burritos, lentil soups, or veggie burgers. These are great for experimenting with different flavors and seasonings. 

Try new recipes to make hummus, bean dip, or lentil salad with beans and lentils. Serve them with whole-wheat pita bread, tortilla chips, or fresh veggies.

Tofu and tempeh

Tofu and tempeh are plant-based proteins that can be used in many dishes and are enjoyed by vegan athletes. They can be marinated, baked, fried, or grilled to achieve different textures and flavors. 

Try making tofu nuggets, tempeh tacos, or tofu scramble with tofu and tempeh. You can also add them to stir-fries, curries, or salads for a satisfying meal.

Turkey rollups

A simple and tasty way to get more protein is to make turkey rollups with tortillas, cream cheese, cranberry sauce, turkey, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes.

These appetizers or snacks are high in protein and low in carbs, and you can customize them with your favorite ingredients. 

Plant based pasta

Pasta is a delicious and versatile dish that you can use to combine with your favorite sauce and protein source. By choosing pasta made from whole grains, legumes, or other plant based ingredients, you can boost the protein content of the meal. 

Smoothies

One of the easiest and most delicious ways to get your protein is to make smoothies with any combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, high protein milk, yogurt, or protein powder.

They are perfect for breakfast, snack, or after a game, and they can help you meet your protein needs. 

You can also make them into smoothie bowls and top them with granola, coconut, berries, or chocolate. 

High protein pancake mixes (or frozen pre made)

Another convenient and healthy way to get more protein is to use high protein pancake mixes to make fluffy and filling pancakes or waffles. Spread with nut butter and top with fresh berries to boost flavor, protein and add carbs.

They are made with ingredients such as oats, protein powder, almond flour, coconut flour, or flax seeds. Or if you’re in need of a quicker option, you can find a great variety of frozen waffles (or pancakes) in the frozen aisle at the grocery store.

Final thoughts

Protein is an important nutrient for your picky eater, especially if they are an athlete. By following these tips and tricks, you can make high-protein foods more appealing and enjoyable for your athlete.

Remember to be patient, positive, and creative when introducing new protein sources to your picky eater. With time and practice, they’ll learn to love protein and all the benefits it brings.

And when you have questions, you can always work with a registered sports dietitian nutritionist for additional help.

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