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 healthful options for kids? With so many brands out there, is there such a thing as a more nutritious choice? Can these bars be used as meals or snacks? Do kids need additional protein?

Protein bars vary substantially from brand to brand, and even within the same brand's varieties. A protein bar is typically more robust than a granola bar, as they are higher in protein. This sounds like a good thing, but these bars can also be full of added vitamins, non-nutritive sweeteners, and other ingredients. They may also contain very high amounts of protein, so label reading is a must.

In addition, some packaging can have diet culture messaging—so for older kids who can read, this is important to look out for. 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?

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. However, the requirement is based on body weight so the overall daily needs for children are still generally lower than adults. But, as with adults, there is such a thing as too much.

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. For reference, a large egg contains 6 grams of protein, a tablespoon of peanut butter contains 4 grams of protein, 1/4 cup of refried beans contains 4 grams, and a slice of whole grain bread contains around 6 grams of protein.

Protein bars can be handy when you're on-the-go and need a shelf-stable snack. But, because kids don't need large quantities of protein all at once, it's important to choose bars that do not contain large amounts of protein. In addition, many foods contain the 5-10 grams of protein recommended for a child's meal or snack and cost a lot less than protein bars.

Kid-Friendly Protein Bars

When at the store, look for protein bars with simple and recognizable ingredients. When possible, seek out brands that use dried fruit to sweeten and who skip the supplemental protein powders.

Opt for bars that do not contain hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats). Choosing a bar where added sweeteners (sugar, corn syrup, glucose, malt syrup, etc.) are missing or lower down on the ingredient list will help reduce added sugar intake at snack time.

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

  • Clif Z bar: These bars are made with organic ingredients. These bars do not have diet culture wording on their wrappers, contain 5 grams of protein per bar, and have a balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Flavors include Iced Oatmeal Cookie and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip.
  • RX bars: Free of dairy, gluten, and soy, these bars can be an option for children with allergies. The bars have simple ingredient lists that make it easy to see if they contain anything your child might be allergic to. Flavor offerings include Apple Cinnamon Raisin and Chocolate Chip.
  • Zing bars: These bars come in a wide variety of flavors (Coconut Cashew Crisp—yes please!). They also come in a half-sized version for younger kids or to pair with other foods at snack time.

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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  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.