Five Ways to Get More Protein


Say the word “protein” and images of bodybuilders and huge canisters of powdery substances come up in many people’s minds. Although I passed health classes in high school and college, I always had a vague idea of what healthy eating should look like. Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I had the USDA’s food pyramid drilled into my head at school. That model showed that grains should be the largest part of a balanced diet, followed by fruits and vegetables. The proteins (dairy, meats, beans, nuts and eggs) were only to be consumed 2-3 times per day, slightly more than the “use sparingly” category of oils, fats and sweets. 

Through my journey to better health in the past year, I have realized that protein is much more important than I previously thought and should be included at each meal or snack. 

By including a protein each time we eat, we are assisting our bodies’ blood sugars in their goal of staying level. Protein is also essential for good brain and hormone function. Eating this way has not only helped me to lose over 50 pounds in the past year, but I have seen improvements in my children’s health as well. I’m not as strict about every snack including protein for my kids, but when I do give them protein I see that they stay full longer (which means less snacks!) and are generally more focused and happy. Rarely, I’ll let them eat a fruit alone for a snack and almost every time I see a “sugar-crash” happen afterward, whether it be a toddler meltdown or drama with one of my older daughters. 

Learning to eat this way can be tricky at first, but there are a few key ingredients that can be easy, go-to sources of protein for a busy family.

Here are some of my favorite ways to get more protein in my family:

  1. Switch from cold cereal to oatmeal. This was hard at first because my girls loved their cereal and I loved how easy it was. Unfortunately, I realized this traditional breakfast food of cold cereal (even with some organic whole milk) was just not enough protein for their growing bodies, whereas oatmeal packs in 5 grams per serving. However, we did not go buy the pre-sweetened packets of quick oatmeal, as tempting as that might be. You can make a big bowl of old-fashioned oats in the microwave in only 3 minutes. Then I just make sure I have some exciting toppings available, for example: dried fruit, sunflower or pumpkin seeds (more protein), unsweetened coconut flakes, berries, Greek yogurt (even more protein!) and raw local honey (for the kids). A big bowl of this keeps them full and ready to learn for hours!                                                                                    
  2.  Add protein to macaroni and cheese. I personally don’t eat the boxed stuff anymore, but let’s be real: there are times when a box of mac and cheese can be a big help to a busy mom. The easiest way to add protein is to add a 1/4 cup of plain (not vanilla!) Greek yogurt instead of the milk or butter. It makes it super creamy and my girls love it (except for the one daughter who despises cheese, go figure). Another way you can add protein is to add tuna or perhaps some sausage or diced chicken. Go with what your kids like. 
  3. Make protein shakes/smoothies. You don’t have to start scooping expensive whey powder (and if you do, please make sure you understand the ingredients!) to make some delicious and kid-friendly smoothies that pack a more powerful nutrition punch! We used to do a lot of banana and nut butter smoothies here, but I later realized that they consisted of mostly carbohydrates and fat with very little protein in proportion. I found a great trick: just add cottage cheese! Now, let me assure you, my kids can be funny about textures and none of them will touch cottage cheese with a ten foot pole, normally. But plop a good 1/2 cup serving in a fruit and veggie smoothie and they will drink every drop. It makes the shake really creamy, without adding a flavor, and you’re adding another 13 grams of protein per 1/2 cup! If we have any leftovers (usually not), I pour them in popsicle molds and keep them in the freezer for a quick snack.
  4. Try beans in a new way. My kids have always liked the traditional beans with brown rice (since my husband makes them delicious), but we also like them added them to salads and even snacked on roasted chickpeas, which have about 8 grams of protein per serving. Lentil soup is one of my kids’ favorite meals and each cup contains around 18 grams of protein. Add some quinoa for even more protein. Quinoa cooks up even faster than brown rice and has double the protein! (If your child balks at the look of quinoa, I told mine it was called “QUEEN-WAH” because royal people eat it.)
  5. Whip up my recipe for protein pancakes!    [yumprint-recipe id=’1′]