It is not uncommon for toddlers to go through a picky eating phase where they want nothing to do with meat. During this phase, many parents wonder if their child is getting enough protein. The answer most of the time is yes. Protein needs for kids are very low, which is why it’s not often a nutrient of concern.
If you are focusing on other nutrients, like iron, you will probably be able to help your child meet their protein needs. Many iron containing foods also contain protein, which is why I don’t list protein as a nutrient in my balanced plate.
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What does protein do?
Protein is made up of amino acids. These amino acids are used in many different processes throughout the body. We often think of protein as the fuel to build muscle, but every cell and enzyme in our body uses protein.
These guidelines are based on an omnivorous diet. Some proteins are considered better quality, because they have more of the essential amino acids that we need in appropriate ratios. That being said, for most people, it’s not important to get too hung up on the details.
Protein needs are based on weight. For each age, I’ve listed the recommended daily allowance (RDA) as well as how many grams/day that works out to be for an average child of that age group. Your child’s needs may be more or less. As with all nutrients, there’s no need to keep a log. This information is just meant to give you an rough idea of your child’s needs.
Protein Rich Foods
For plant-based families, lysine is the amino acid that’s generally in the shortest supply. Getting enough lysine throughout the day is important. Legumes, such as beans, peanuts, and soy, are good sources of lysine and can be included in a vegan diet to make sure that enough is consumed (2).
Many plant based proteins will be lacking in one or more essential amino acid. Getting protein from a variety of sources can help to make sure that you or your child are getting all the amino acids you need.
- nut butters
Are protein powders safe for kids?
Supplements, like protein powders, are not highly regulated. This means that often times they contain ingredients you may not expect. Due to this risk of contamination, and the fact that kids don’t need that much protein, it’s not recommended to give kids protein powder.
If you purchase protein powder for yourself, make sure that it is third party verified. This means that another company has tested it to make sure there aren’t any contaminants and that it contains what it says it will contain.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.