In some ways, my 3-year-old is actually a pretty open-minded eater. To my surprise, she’s always loved vegetables. She’ll chow down on roasted broccoli or squash, and will pop cherry tomatoes and peas like they’re candy.
One thing she doesn’t always love, though? Meat.
We have a few reliable options (chicken is always the common denominator), but with almost anything else — like beef, pulled pork, or any sort of fish — she’s not interested.
It doesn’t mean that I’ll stop eagerly offering them anytime soon. But alongside those efforts, I’ve also stockpiled a few easy tricks to make sure she’s getting adequate protein without much meat in her diet. Here are some that I use most often.
1. Swap regular pasta noodles for a high-protein alternative.
Pasta is something my toddler will devour. (Like mother, like daughter!) To bulk up the nutrition, I use pasta noodles made from chickpeas, lentils, or pea flour. They pack more protein and fiber than traditional ones, and when they’re covered in sauce, she can’t tell the difference. Two favorites are Banza made with chickpeas, and Annie’s Mac made with pea flour.
2. Work eggs into lunch and dinner, not just breakfast.
Egg ribbons are easy to make and a great place to start. Think of them as a fancier cousin to scrambled eggs! If your kid loves the latter, they’ll likely be into these twirlable, noodle-esque ribbons as well. (And you’ll appreciate that they’re more versatile to work into lunch and dinner ideas.) A favorite toddler-approved preparation: Mix with sautéed veggies and top with plenty of Parmesan.
Get the recipe: How To Make Egg Ribbons at Home
3. Lean on protein-rich veggie burgers.
There trick here is knowing that not all veggie burgers are created equal — both taste-wise and nutrition-wise. After some trial and error with homemade versions, I landed on a store-bought favorite that checks all the boxes: Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers. There are no weird ingredients and it’s organic, pretty darn tasty, and has a solid amount of protein, fiber, and Vitamin A. If you don’t have time to go the full-out burger route, these are also great cut up into sticks as a snack (with a side of ketchup, of course!).
4. Use beans as a base.
Admittedly, beans aren’t a toddler hit every time in my house (white bean salad was recently a strong “no”). But three dishes that predictably go over well are vegetarian chili, black bean and cheese tacos, and refried bean roll-ups. Once you find an application that your kid(s) enjoy, you can’t go wrong. Beans are cheap, filling, packed with protein and fiber, and they last forever in the pantry.
5. When in doubt, dip!
Kids are often more likely to eat something if there’s a delicious, dunkable dip served with it. For that reason, I always keep my fridge stocked with high-protein options, like Greek yogurt and hummus. My daughter will eat the former by itself as snack, but more often as a dip or sauce: dolloped onto tacos, or sweetened a bit with nut butter and honey and then used as a fruit dip or waffle topper.
Get the recipe: Yogurt Dip with Peanut Butter & Honey
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