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feeding kids: are they eating enough protein?

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Have you ever wondered if your kid is eating enough protein? If so, you aren’t alone. This is a question that I get ALL the time.

It’s hard not to worry about every little thing when it comes to our kids. Are they sleeping enough? Are they getting enough interaction? Too much interaction? Did letting them watch that cartoon just ruin their future job potential? The opportunities to question ourselves as parents seem to be endless. And meal times are no exception to the questions.

It seems like parents (myself included!) often worry about a few specific things when it comes to feeding kids:

  1. Are my kids eating a balanced diet with enough vitamins and nutrients? (Are they missing out on important vitamins?)
  2. Are my kids eating too much sugar/refined carbohydrates?
  3. Are my kids eating enough protein?

Is my kid eating enough protein?

So today we’ll cover the protein question, and cover the other two soon. (If you have any other specific questions when it comes to kids nutrition, email me! emily@anutritionisteats.com)

How much protein do kids need?

The average toddler (ages 1-3) need a minimum about 16 grams of protein per day and the average 4-8 year old needs 19 grams per day. The average toddler is actually eating 50 grams of protein per day, so a deficiency is extremely rare in the United States. If you are concerned, keep track of what they eat over the course of a few days and see what the average is over a few days. Remember, kids just like adults, have days of increased appetite and days of decreased appetite, so it’s best to not single out one day. But I think you’ll see that your child easily meets the minimum recommendations and probably exceeds them!

Equation to figure out specifically how many grams of protein your child needs:

Child’s weight / 2.2 = __ weight in kg
weight in kg x 1.2 = recommended grams of protein per day

Example: 30 lb/2.2 = 13.6 kg
13.6 kg x 1.2 = 16.32 grams of protein per day

Feeding Kids: are they getting enough protein?

So what does 16 grams of protein look like? It’s actually really easy to get there!

1 cup of milk: 8 grams
5 oz greek yogurt: 15 grams
1 slice of sprouted bread: 4 grams
1 oz nuts: 6 grams
1/2 cup cooked beans: 6 grams
1 egg: 6 grams
1 cup chopped kale: 3 grams
4 oz fish or meat: 25 grams

Now are you wondering if they are getting TOO much protein? Eating too much of any macronutrient can cause weight gain, but if they’re eating more protein-rich and wholesome foods, there probably isn’t as much room for junky, empty-calorie foods, so don’t stress too much. Do your best to make sure your child is eating a variety of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates (preferably fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). And really, let them decide – and trust their decision on – what and how much to eat.

Since most kids aren’t at risk for a protein deficiency, I think the goal should be to spread out protein in each meal, so that blood sugar levels stay regulated throughout the day. Breakfast is a great opportunity to shift some of the protein that we typically see at lunch and dinner to the first meal of the day.

Here’s an example of a day of meals that provides plenty of protein from a variety of sources.

*Note: Serving size is just to estimate protein amounts, and will vary greatly depending on age and appetite! 

feeding kids: are they getting enough protein?

Breakfast: 1 cup whole milk (8 g pro) + banana + 1 whole grain waffle (2 g pro) + 1 Tbsp nut butter (3 g pro) + 1 tsp chia seeds   // Find more healthy breakfast ideas here.

feeding kids: are they getting enough protein?

Lunch: turkey pinwheel (Spread tortilla with a layer of cream cheese and pesto and top with a slice of turkey. Roll up and slice.) (6-8 g pro) + carrots + blueberries  // Find more healthy lunch ideas here.

feeding kids: are they getting enough protein?

Dinner: 2 oz fish (13 g pro)  + 1/2 slice bread (2 g pro) with butter + 1/2 cup sautéed broccoli // Find more fish recipes here.

Total: 36 grams of protein

As you can see, even relatively small portions of a variety of foods provide plenty of protein throughout the day, and that’s without any snacks! So back to our original question: is my kid getting enough protein?

Probably. 🙂

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  1. shaun

    Thanks very much for this post. It’s really helpful. Our 8yo daughter doesn’t like meat much, so we’ve been asking ourselves this same question. Good to know that we can stop trying to get her to eat meat as long as she’s getting plenty of protein other ways.

    • Emily

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! Exactly, I think if she doesn’t eat meat or is vegetarian you may want to pay extra attention to make sure she’s getting enough protein, but there are plenty of ways out there to get it. 🙂