Do you wonder about protein for kids? What are the best protein foods and are they eating enough protein? In this article, I guide you through how much protein kids need and what to do if they are not eating enough protein.
What is Protein?
I’m sure you have heard of protein and that it is an important part of a healthy diet. However, do you know what protein is? Simply, protein is a molecule made up of amino acids. These molecules are building blocks for many parts of our bodies like muscle, skin, hair, and any body tissue.
In the body, protein is important for growth and development, repair, and provides us energy.
Our body does not store protein, so it is essential to eat foods that contain protein so that our body can use the building blocks (amino acids) to build protein molecules.
Protein is an essential macronutrient. Along with carbohydrates and fat, our bodies need adequate protein to grow and thrive!
Protein for Kids: How Much Do They Need?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans the following are protein recommendations for kids:
Infants usually consume enough protein from breastmilk or formula. When foods are added, it is recommended that infants consume about 11 grams of protein per day. For infants, these foods can be pureed meats, egg yolks, cooked and softened beans or lentils, whole milk yogurt, or cheese.
Children ages 1-3 years have a recommended dietary allowance of 13 grams of protein per day.
Most toddlers will consume enough protein throughout the course of the day if they eat a variety of foods.
Children ages 4-8 need a minimum of 19 grams of protein per day.
Kids over the age of 9 have varying needs based on gender and age. Children ages 9-13 need 34 grams of protein per day.
In the age range of 14-18 years, girls need to consume 46 grams of protein and boys need 52 grams of protein each day.
What Foods Contain Protein?
Protein is found in many foods. Meats like chicken, beef, and fish are commonly known to be good sources protein. In addition, eggs are a great source of animal protein.
Dairy foods contain protein like milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Plant-based foods also contain protein like beans, lentils, peas, nuts, or nut butter, seitan, tempeh, and tofu.
Grains like cornmeal, pasta, rice, kamut (wheat berries), quinoa, teff, and amaranth also contain small amounts of protein that add up throughout the day.
My Child is Vegetarian/Vegan
Most kids who are vegetarian or vegan can consume adequate protein each day if they eat a variety of protein-rich foods throughout the day. Vegetarians can consume dairy foods like milk yogurt and cheese for protein. Beans, lentils, nuts, nut butter, and tofu are great sources of plant-based protein for vegans.
My Child Barely Eats Meat
Some kids do not eat a lot of meat, and that is okay! When it comes to meat, some kids are sensitive to its texture. My recommendation is to serve soft or ground meats when possible and continue to try new flavors and combinations. Eventually your child is likely to enjoy meats.
When your child does not eat a lot of meat, focus on providing dairy foods, legumes, nuts or nut butter, seeds, and grains for sources of protein.
Does My Child Need Extra Protein?
In general, children should get enough protein from their meals and snacks if they are eating two servings of protein throughout the day. This amount of protein should be adequate for basic growth and development, even for active kids.
Giving your child extra protein from supplements may cause long-term health problems. Extra protein is stored as fat and can cause weight gain. Protein is processed in the kidneys, and too much protein can cause the kidneys to work hard and can lead to dehydration.
Additionally, protein supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Supplement labels are not regulated, and you may not know all the ingredients or amount of ingredients in a product.
If you do choose to use a protein supplement, make sure you purchase from a trusted source to know what you or your child is consuming.
If your child has a medical condition or special need for protein supplementation, make sure to discuss options with your pediatrician.
My Best Advice
Overall, I recommend that kids eat a variety of protein foods from meals and snacks throughout the day. It is likely that they will consume adequate protein for their growing needs.
If you find that over time your child is not eating very much of the foods that contain protein, try to serve them often and in new ways so that they continue to get exposure to them.
If your child is not eating protein foods at all, check in with your pediatrician to inquire if additional supplementation is necessary.
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