Parents often tell me they are concerned that their infant, toddler, or child isn’t getting enough protein. Protein is critical for human growth, particularly during times of rapid growth- infancy and puberty. If your child is seemingly not eating enough protein, you may be concerned.
The good news is that kids can meet their daily protein needs more easily than you might think!
Infant Protein Needs:
Infants need more protein per kilogram of body weight than any other stage of life. However, breastmilk and infant formulas provide adequate protein, given that your child is taking enough volume. You will know that they are taking enough volume if they are growing within normal limits on the growth chart at pediatrician visits. Preemies who need “catch-up growth” or infants who have special health care needs have especially high protein needs, and should be managed by a pediatric dietitian as well as their doctor.
When solids are introduced, offer a variety of pureed meats and/or beans at 8-9 months. You can make your own baby food by simmering meat in a crock pot (with enough water to cover it) for 8-12 hours or until very tender. Then once the meat has cooled, blend it in a food processor, adding liquid such as breastmilk, formula, or water as needed to make a smoother consistency. Infants over 8-9 months can also pick up and eat soft beans such as black beans. Make sure they are soft enough to mash easily in their mouth and watch closely for choking. You can mash them a little with a fork before putting them on their tray to make them easier to eat.
Toddler Protein Needs:
Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 years need 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, if your child weighs 30 lbs, or about 14 kg, he or she needs about 16 grams of protein every day. Here is how your child can achieve this:
8 ounces, or 1 cup, of 2% milk has 8 grams of protein.
1 egg, prepared any way, has 7 grams of protein.
Your toddler practically met the entire day’s protein requirements in breakfast alone!
Adolescence Protein Needs:
During adolescence, kids need 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. So for example, a child who weighs 100 lbs needs about 45 grams of protein. Adolescents typically have a good appetite, so eating enough protein is usually not a problem. If your teen is skipping meals, restricting food, or losing weight suddenly, you should talk to your pediatrician or registered dietitian to make sure they get the nutrition they need.
Alternatives to meat that provide protein*
Cottage cheese – ¼ cup has 7 grams protein
Yogurt – ½ cup has about 5.5 grams protein
100% whole wheat bread – 1 slice has 5 grams protein
100% whole wheat pasta – ½ cup has about 4 grams protein
Quinoa – ½ cup has about 4 grams protein
Black beans – ¼ cup has 4 grams protein
Peanut butter – 1 tablespoon has 4 grams protein
Sunflower seed butter – 1 tablespoon has about 3 grams protein
Hummus – 1 tablespoon has about 1 gram of protein
*protein amounts may vary by brand
If you or your pediatrician have concerns about your child’s nutrition intake or growth, contact a pediatric registered dietitian for a nutrition assessment and recommendations. The dietitian can get your child back on track and help alleviate any stress you have as a parent regarding your child’s nutrition.