Protein is included in our guide to building a healthy lunchbox. So why is eating protein important?
When we eat protein, our bodies magically turn it into amino acids. Amino acids build and maintain all our body tissues especially our muscles, organs and our immune system. Of the 22 amino acid types our body absolutely needs for survival, we automatically make 13 of them (yay!). The remaining 9 need to come from food intake. These 9 are called the ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS.
Protein we consume from animal products give us “complete” proteins, which means they provide us with everything we need. Plant based proteins are great too, but are called “incomplete” because each single item doesn’t cover all bases. All that means is that when relying on vegetables for our essential amino acids, we need to eat them in certain combinations over the day to make sure we get everything we need.
So adding a bit of dairy, chicken, meat or fish into your kid’s lunchbox is great, but if meat ‘aint your kids thang, no worries, here are some equations to cover those essential amino acids:
- Pulses + dairy products
- Pulses + whole grains
- Pluses + seeds/nuts
- Dairy + wholegrains
On average, kids need around 1g of protein for every 1kg of body weight. To give you an idea of what that means, in 100g of chicken, you get 27g of protein, and in the same amount of mushrooms, you get 3g of protein.
Eating acidic foods, especially fruit, can help proteins break down more easily into amino acids. Higher insulin levels help your muscles absorb protein too. So if you consume a complex carbohydrate (like wholegrain bread), at the same time as your protein, you can maximise what you are getting out of your food.
Some vegetarian lunchbox ideas
Add these high protein veg into your child’s recess or Crunch & Sip: sun-dried tomatoes, soy-bean sprouts (these are fresh tasting and crunchy), snow peas, green peas, corn kernels, asparagus, raw mushrooms (try these for kids who don’t like cooked mushrooms – they are creamy and delicious and not at all “slimy”), snow peas, green peas, corn kernels, asparagus and avocado.
Other things to try are:
- Eggs! including our ramen egg recipe
- Cream cheese, corn and grated carrot sandwiches/wraps
- Cheese sandwich on wholemeal bread
- Burrito of brown rice, black beans, cheese and avocado mixed with some lemon juice. Make it easy to eat by laying a square of baking paper over a square of foil and wrapping the burrito tightly (with foil on outside).
- Edamame hummus, shredded dried seaweed and sesame seed wrap. Drizzle with sesame dressing of a mixture of 1 part soy sauce, 2 parts sesame oil and 1 part olive oil.
- Pea, bean sprout and butter bean fritters with yoghurt dipping sauce
- Barley salad with veg leftovers and fetta
- Brown rice and mixed bean salad with lemony dressing
- Protein balls
- sushi balls: you don’t need to be a sushi master to do this one but it does use protein rich seaweed, some grains and whatever other flavour your kid likes.
You never know what kids might get into, but I’ve had random success with raw mushrooms, silken tofu and quinoa – all foods and textures I did not expect my kids to like, but which they really enjoy. The simple act of experimentation shows them you are on their side and might open their mind to trying new things in the future.
Some meaty protein ideas for lunchboxes
A lunch thermos is a good way to boost protein intake by adding dinner leftovers like meatballs or bolognaise. Other options are starting with poached chicken, smoked salmon or tinned tuna. Some ideas are:
- Use the protein in sandwiches – mix with mayo for moisture and to keep it in place
- Pop in a little reusable tub with something to dip into such as mayo or a mix of plain greek yoghurt and sour cream.
- Try a protein rich salad by combining your meat/fish with avocado, bean sprouts and toasted sunflower seeds. Mix together with a 1:1:1 mix of buttermilk, lemon juice and olive oil. Send to school in a mini food thermos.
Protein Intake & Chewing
If you are having trouble getting your child to eat the standard proteins like meat, you might find they find it difficult to chew. It actually takes some muscle strength to get through some tough meats. Our poached chicken is very soft, or you could try them on slow cooked lamb or beef too. The slower it is cooked, the softer it will be. Fish is an amazing protein choice for kids who have some trouble with meat as it is so easy to chew. If your child does seem to struggle to chew, some strength training may be required ;). If you are worried, check in with a dentist.
Hope you enjoy experimenting with these ideas.
Love, Ali x