How Much Protein Do Kids Really Need?
And Easy Ways To Meet Their Needs, Even Without Meat!
A common question among parents is whether or not their children are getting enough protein. They’re worried about how much they need and all the sources they may be getting it from. Or maybe they’re nervous their child is getting too much protein!
Either way, not to worry! A simple equation and a few extra minutes will give you peace of mind in knowing your child is getting everything they need.
Finding Your Child’s Protein Needs
Protein is an essential nutrient for every human body. It’s important for many biological functions and particularly during the younger years when our children are experiencing rapid growth and development.
The general equation for establishing protein needs is to divide your child’s body weight (in pounds) by two to determine the amount of protein needed in grams. For example, if your child weighs 30 pounds, they need to eat around 15 grams of protein per day.
Now before you bust out your calculator or start tracking macros, remember this is a general rule and you don’t have to police your kid’s eating habits. Their requirements aren’t super high so you don’t need to worry, but you should be intentional. Just keep the general idea, check their labels, and offer protein at every meal and snack time.
Worried About Giving Them Too Much?
Since 15g seems like so little, maybe you’re worried you’re giving your child too much protein. It truly is extremely difficult to eat so much protein that it causes harm. Typically, your child’s body will absorb what it needs and excrete the rest!
The concern only comes in when they’re getting too much too often. Having a large amount of protein in a meal here or there is not a concern, but continuously overloading the body with protein could lead to an undue burden on the child’s organs or cause dehydration.
There are products out there that can make it easier to over-serve protein, however. I really am not a fan of protein powders and caution parents to be cognizant of adding them to meals.
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Reasons They May Need More Protein
If you have a picky eater, they likely need more protein. Picky eaters tend to be more wary of meat and prefer carbohydrate-heavy foods like bread or pasta. But it is possible to find carbs with protein, like some kinds of pasta and whole grains.
Vegetarian children, whether by your choice or theirs, likely need to increase their protein intake. Because they are not getting large amounts of easily absorbable protein from meat sources, they usually require a larger volume of food to meet the same protein levels. Vegetarian sources of protein may also be more difficult to absorb.
Non-Meat Protein Sources
Meeting your child’s protein needs really is so simple, even if they don’t like meat! My top favorite source of non-meat protein is dairy. A single cup of whole milk has 8g of protein, so two cups and you’ve met your goal (for a 30-lb child). Yogurt is also another great source of protein, but be careful to check labels, as protein and sugar content can vary drastically between brands and types!
Whole grains are another great option, though they don’t offer the same amount of protein as meat because they are a carb first and foremost. You can also supplement with legumes, lentils, and beans, all of which are a great source of fiber. Try adding nuts and seeds as well for their added fiber and healthy fats.
If you have a picky eater and you’re worried about protein intake because they simply just won’t eat, I invite you to join my Table Talk Course. There, I will help become your child’s own nutrition expert and bring joy back to mealtimes.
Understanding your child’s individual protein needs is the first step in finding peace and easing your fears around protein. When you establish a baseline, you can identify if they need more or less. Be careful not to take a snapshot in time, rather zoom out and look at the big picture–on average, have they gotten enough protein this week or month instead of just today.
Hi there! My name is Alyssa
I'm a registered dietitian and picky eating specialist with nearly a decade of experience, mom of three, and the founder of Nutrition for Littles. I'm dedicated to making mealtimes enjoyable and nutritious for families.
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