· By Julia Boase

How Much Protein Do Kids Need? 20 Non Meat Protein Ideas for your Lunch Box

If you’ve got a starch loving fussy eater on your hands (and perhaps even if you don’t) you’ve probably found yourself wondering whether they are getting enough protein?

We all know that protein is essential for growth, but there’s a lot of confusion as to how much protein kids actually need, hint - it’s not as much as you think.

Protein needs for kids are quite modest and surprisingly not hard to meet. I suspect a lot of parental worry stems from kids being reluctant meat eaters, but meat or poultry aren’t the only sources of protein in our diet. Protein is found widely in food and in fact most population based surveys have found that kids are consuming more than enough protein. 

Protein has an essential role supporting your child’s growth, muscle development and is used to make various hormones and enzymes. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Our bodies can make some of these amino acids and there are some we can’t. The amino acids we can’t make are called “essential amino acids” and accordingly these are the ones that we need to get from our diet. Animal products (meat, chicken, dairy or fish) all contain these essential amino acids. Soy products and quinoa are two plant based foods that also contain all the essential amino acids. All other plant based foods usually lack at least one essential amino acid. 

That doesn’t mean that you need to be consuming animal foods to get all the amino acids your body needs, eating a wide variety of plant foods is generally considered sufficient to get everything you need. 

The table below gives you a guide as to how much protein your child needs each day (you’ll note that it goes by gender from age 9 to represent the differing needs as children hit puberty) and the pictorial below shows how easy it is for an 8yr old to meet their protein requirements. Bottom line - you don’t need to count your child’s protein intake, just work towards them eating a variety of food from each of the 5 core food groups (protein foods, vegetables, grains & cereals, fruit and dairy)  each day. And because I know a lot of kids don’t like meat, I’ve included 20 ideas for protein rich lunch box foods that are meat free!



All ages



1-3 yrs




4- 8 yrs




9 - 13yrs 




14 - 18yrs





Protein Rich Non Meat Ideas for your Lunch Box


Black bean brownies

Baked goods with seeds - try our seedy cornflake slice

Tinned or roasted chickpeas


Baked beans (in a thermos)

Smoothie or milk drink - use our insulated bottles to keep cold all the school day long

Cheese - slices, sticks or grated

Wholegrain or seedy crackers

Wholemeal bread - it’s higher in protein than white or choose a higher protein loaf

Peanut butter if allowed (many high schools allow)

Muesli Bars 

High protein dry cereal like weet-bix high protein bites

Boiled egg


Trail mix with pepitas or sunflower seeds or nuts if permitted

Quinoa based salad


Tinned 3 bean mix




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