How to Choose Protein Bars for Kids

dad doing little girl's hair while she eats protein bar

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A protein bar can provide quick and convenient nourishment but parents often have questions. Are these protein bars reasonable options for kids? With so many brands out there, is there such a thing as a healthy choice? When's the best time for a child to eat protein-rich foods?

A protein bar is more robust than a granola bar, as they are higher in calories and, of course, protein. This sounds like a good thing, but these bars can also be full of unhealthy fats and added sugars, so label reading is a must. Find out when it's a good time to reach for a pint-sized protein bar and what to look for when shopping for one.

How Much Protein Do Kids Need?

Eating protein is all about timing. Since the body doesn’t store protein, it is crucial to spread out intake throughout the day. The body’s demand for protein is always changing so it’s more sensible to eat small amounts as the day goes along instead of a large chunk at one meal. Children do have higher protein requirements than adults, but, as with adults, there is such a thing as too much.

A study published in 2017 reported that there could be an association between protein intake and obesity. However other studies have shown that diets higher in protein are associated with weight loss. While more research is needed the goal should be to meet needs, not exceed them.

To support growth, kids need to eat adequate amounts of protein each day. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children age 4 to 8 consume about 19 grams of protein a day, and children age 9 to 3 get 34 grams of protein a day. This means that 5 to 10 grams at meals and snacks throughout the day can easily satisfy protein needs.

Protein bars can be filling, so reaching for one is best reserved for after physical activity or for a substantial snack when a meal is a long while off. Scarfing one down 30 minutes before dinner will be sure to spoil a little one’s appetite.

Kid-Friendly Protein Bars

When at the store, look for protein bars with simple and recognizable ingredients. When possible, seek out brands that use whole food ingredients instead of refined sugars and supplemental protein powders.

Be on the lookout for unhealthy hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats), and keep in mind that these bars shouldn’t break the calorie bank—set a target of about 150 calories per serving. Check ingredient lists for added sugars like corn syrup, glucose, cane sugar, and malt syrup. Choose a bar where these types of sweeteners are completely missing or down low on the list.

The following are some examples of kid-friendly protein bars:

  • Clif Z bar: These bars are made with organic ingredients. Despite the slightly complicated ingredient list, they are tasty and well-portioned with 130 calories and 5 grams of protein per bar. Flavors include Iced Oatmeal Cookie and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip.
  • RX bars: Free of added sugars, dairy, gluten, and soy, these bars have the simplest of ingredient lists. They contain 7 grams of protein from egg whites and are naturally sweetened with dates. Flavor offerings include Apple Cinnamon Raisin and Chocolate Chip.
  • Zing bars: These bars aren't specifically designed for kids, but they are made with sensible ingredients and come in a wide variety of flavors (Coconut Cashew Crisp—yes please!). Since many flavors have 200 calories and 10 grams of protein, you can feel good about sharing one of these bars with your little one or buy a box of half-sized minibars.

Homemade Protein Bars for Kids

With a few common pantry staples, you can whip up a homemade batch of bars with 6 grams of protein per serving. The following recipe's combo of creamy nut butter, natural sweeteners, crunchy nuts, and dried fruit are sure to please just about any kid.

There are several ways to make this recipe allergen-friendly. Replace the wheat germ with 1/4 cup extra brown rice cereal to make these bars gluten-free; also be sure to use certified gluten-free cereal and rolled oats. To accommodate nut allergies, replace the nut butter with sunflower butter and omit the almonds.

Crunchy Nut Butter Bars

This recipe makes 14 bars:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup almond butter or peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups crisp brown rice cereal
  • 1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit (suggestions: figs, apricots, cherries, blueberries)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan combine honey, nut butter, maple syrup, canola oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir and cook over medium heat until mixture just begins to bubble, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine oats, rice cereal, wheat germ, almonds, dried fruit, and salt.
  4. Pour nut butter mixture over oatmeal mixture and stir gently with a spatula until well combined.
  5. Transfer to the baking dish, cover with parchment paper, and press firmly into dish.
  6. Allow bars to cool completely in the refrigerator before cutting into squares or bars.
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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Appendix 7. Nutritional goals for age-sex groups based on dietary reference intakes and Dietary Guidelines recommendations. In 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. 2015.

  2. Beyerlein A, Uusitalo UM, Virtanen SM, et al. Intake of energy and protein is associated with overweight risk at age 5.5 Years: results from the Prospective TEDDY studyObesity (Silver Spring). 2017;25(8):1435–1441. doi:10.1002/oby.21897