Let’s talk low-cost protein options!
Many plant-based protein sources, especially dried beans and lentils, are nutrient-packed options that can help lower your grocery bill. In our online Toddler Course, we recommend some protein with each meal for blood sugar regulation, growth, satiety and building muscle.
However, kids’ protein needs aren’t crazy high, and when we’re on a budget there are some super inexpensive ways to meet those needs!
Of course, meat, poultry and fresh fish are great sources of protein, but sometimes they can be more pricey. Make sure to shop sales and freeze in bulk to get better deals on those foods!
Note: the images listed aren’t of portion sizes - just the food itself! Even though we have portion sizes listed for reference to protein values, your kiddo may eat much more or much less.
Prices via Walmart in Arizona.
How much protein is enough?
Do I need to count protein? No, not unless your child has a specific medical issue or is severely limited in their diet.
What do these numbers mean? Your child is very likely eating enough protein!
What if my child eats more than this? Very excessive protein intake can tax the kidneys, but as long as your child’s diet is balanced with other foods and they drink lots of water, we don’t worry if they eat more than the RDA.
Other nut butters and seed butters also contain protein - peanut butter may just be the most cost effective.
Lentil or chickpea pasta are great sources of protein; they’re just less accessible and more pricey (about $0.26 per 1/4 cup serving, providing 5 grams of protein). We showed whole wheat as a reminder that whole grains contain protein too.
Need a little extra protein?
We love using unsweetened whole Greek yogurt! The possibilities are endless! One of our favorite brands is Maple Hill Creamery because of its creamy, smooth texture. (As always, this post is not sponsored - we just enjoy their products!)
Here are some of our favorite ways to use it:
Note: It's Important that you buy unsweetened/unflavored Greek yogurt if using it in savory dishes or as a sour cream replacement.
Don’t forget to check out our Instagram posts and stories for more inspiration on our favorite foods!
You're going to want to try this one!
Y’all went nuts on Instagram for our Lentil Pasta Tuna Noodle Casserole, so we’re finally posting the full recipe! This recipe is awesome because it feeds a lot of people and stores in the fridge/freezer well. It's also gluten-free for those who need it.
This casserole tastes best when reheated in the toaster oven, conventional oven or on the stove. It’s crazy high in fiber and protein plus has anti-inflammatory CLA (a type of fat), some omega-3s (more if you use salmon), and lots of calcium and iron! Plus, it’s CHEAP for how many it serves. My kids shovel this in, and it’s a nice comfort food on a cold winter night. I cook by taste, so follow your instincts on this one! Add more or less cheese, paprika, etc. depending on your family’s preferences. Enjoy!
Preheat oven to 375F. Cook pasta per directions on the box and drain. Place pasta in a large bowl and combine all remaining ingredients, leaving 1 cup of shredded cheese for the top. Press into 9x13 casserole dish. Sprinkle with cheese. Cook for 25-35 minutes or until cheese starts to brown and bubble. Let it cool, then eat and enjoy!
Give it some veggies and protein.
Do you sometimes use boxed mac and cheese for your kids or yourself? Yes, homemade mac and cheese is great, but sometimes we need convenient options! If you're a boxed mac fan, you're going to love this!
Here's how we like to modify boxed mac and cheese:
Trader Joe's Organic Mac and Cheese or Annie's Homegrown brand are some of our favorites,
Try this early with your young toddler so that they are used to their mac looking a little different each time! Have an older toddler set in their ways and will only eat the mac and cheese from the blue box? Use the strategies in step 7 of our Toddler Course to slowly graduate away from foods presented the same way each time.
Additional tips to try:
Needing some extra protein?
Hard boiled eggs are a great way to pack some protein into your snacks and meals without taking too much time. Here are a few ways you can serve them to your little ones, or even for yourself, on those really busy days.
There's no wrong way to use hard boiled eggs. You can make a batch over the weekend and use them throughout the week for the whole family.
PS: There’s not much difference between brown and white eggs besides the type of chicken they come from.
You know those nights when you need something fast, filling and tasty? Bonus points if it's high in protein, omega-3s, calcium and veggies, right! BOOM! Enter our super simple Salmon Noodle Casserole. We're all about balance here at Feeding Littles, and we know that sometimes moms just need easy recipes that their kids (and husbands) are excited to try. This is a spin on an old classic that many of us grew up eating, but it's gluten-free for those who need it and is a great way to incorporate more fatty fish into your diet. You can prep it all the night before and keep it covered in the fridge before baking the next day as well. Once it's cooked, keep leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days or freeze individual servings for fast meal prep. As you can see, I often use the leftovers in my preschooler's lunch since it makes a really big batch.
I prefer Pacific brand cream of mushroom soup over your typical canned brand because it has ingredients you can pronounce and the box is BPA-free. Feel free to sub out other types of pasta, veggies, or even fish.