I hear from many parents concerned about protein for kids, and how much they really need. If they aren’t eating meat, do they need some form of protein powder? Should they be concerned? What are the actual protein needs for toddlers or babies?
Protein needs for kids are not that high!
Protein is indisputably a nutrient that we all need for healthy muscles and growth. But most kids, just like adults, have absolutely no problem meeting their protein needs without even trying. Even if they don’t eat meat.
For babies under 1, the recommendation is 11g of protein, including their breast milk or formula. For kids ages 1-3, the recommended amount of protein is 13g. To give you some perspective, 13g amounts to the equivalent of an egg and an ounce of cheese (a stick of string cheese is an ounce to help you visualize). That’s it, that’s what they need to get in a day! So even if they eat only a bite of the egg, and half of the cheese, they are likely going to be getting other food throughout the day. And lots of other foods have protein in them!
For kids ages 4-8, the needs go up to 19g of protein per day. There are a few other equations you can use to figure out more specific protein needs, like dividing their weight by 2. But that means you need to know how much they weigh at that given time, and adjust it as they get bigger. I prefer to have parents use the simpler method of just estimating about 11g, 13g or 19g of protein, depending on their child’s age.
Iron is more important than protein for kids!
Iron is a nutrient of concern for babies and toddlers, and one that, unlike protein, many kids do not get enough of. I recommend instead of focusing on protein sources, at least through the age of 2 you focus on iron instead. (Grab a list of iron-rich foods here!) Most iron-rich food sources also are good sources of protein, but not all protein-rich foods are good sources of iron. By focusing on iron instead of protein, you will make sure that your kid is meeting the more vital nutritional need for their age.
Protein foods for kids
To help you visualize what a days worth of protein is, here are a few common foods and their protein amounts. You can easily see how easy it is to get to 13g of protein, even if your child isn’t a big eater.
Grams of Protein
1oz ground beef
½ cup greek yogurt
½ cup cooked oatmeal
½ cup cooked whole wheat pasta
½ cup cooked chickpea pasta
¼ cup cooked lentils
¼ cup black beans
1 slice whole wheat bread
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp almond butter
The bottom line when it comes to protein for kids is that there’s really no need to stress over it.
It is rare for a child who is eating any amount of food at all to not meet their protein needs. There are other more pressing nutritional needs for children that they aren’t meeting- things like iron, zinc, and calcium. For a full run down of the nutrients your baby or toddler needs, as well as the foods that will help you satisfy those needs, make sure you grab the Grow Baby Grow Ebook.
Get the Grow Baby Grow Ebook!
The all new ebook designed to help you feed your child a nutrient-rich, varied diet! You'll learn all the nutrients that are important in the first two years of your child's life, what the best foods are to get those nutrients in, and how you can serve a varied diet to ensure you are meeting all of their needs!
Hello! The link to the iron article is missing.
Hi Amy! It has been fixed!