I frequently meet with families concerned that their child isn’t getting enough protein. For the most part, the majority of children get plenty of protein, especially if they are drinking milk. Occasionally, I’ll meet a child who is a picky eater (or selective eater) that has missing food groups in their diet and don’t meet their protein goals. Often, a new vegetarian that gives up meat but doesn’t start eating more plant-based protein will also fall short in their protein goals.
A child’s protein intake can be roughly calculated by 50% of their weight (or 1 gram/kg). They are likely meeting their goal if they eat a minimum of 2-3 servings each day in the dairy and meat category.
Protein goals for children
|Weight of child||Age||RDA Protein goals/day|
|20 lbs / 9 kg||1-3 years||1.2 g/kg/day 11 grams|
|35 lbs / 15.9 kg||4-6||1.1 g/kg/day 17 grams|
|55 lbs / 25 kbs||7-10||1 g/kg/day 25 grams|
|95 lbs / 45.45 kg||11-14||1 g/kg/day 43 grams|
Protein plays a vital role in our children’s growth and development, immune function, and brain function. Proteins consist of 20 amino acids that function as hormones, enzymes and help to transport other nutrients.
Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins
Complete proteins include all 9 essential amino acids our body requires daily, (and our bodies can’t make). Essential amino acids are critical for proper growth in children. Foods that are complete proteins include meat, chicken, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, and seafood. Plant proteins that are complete proteins are quinoa, soy, amaranth, and hemp hearts.
|Meat, chicken, fish||1 oz||7 grams|
|Cheese||1 oz||7 grams|
|Greek Yogurt||4 oz||10 grams|
|Yogurt||4 oz||3-4 grams|
|Quinoa||½ cup||4 grams|
|Milk||4 oz||4 grams|
|Tofu||1 oz||2-3 grams|
|Hemp Hearts||1 TB||3 grams|
Incomplete proteins include plant food that is lower in proteins and doesn’t include all the essential 9 amino acids. Pairing complete proteins together throughout the day can assure one is getting all of their essential amino acids. This is particularly important for vegetarians and vegans. An example of pairing incomplete proteins together to make complete would be beans and rice, wheat toast and peanut butter, vegetarian chili with cornbread or hummus and pitas.
Vegetarian Sources-Incomplete Proteins
|Incomplete Protein||Amount||Grams of Protein|
|Chia seeds||1 TB||2.5 grams|
|Hummus||1 TB||2 gram|
|Green peas||½ cups||4 grams|
|Peanut butter||2 TB||7 grams|
|Greek yogurt||4 oz||10 grams|
|Yogurt||4 oz||3-4 grams|
|Almonds||1 oz||6 grams|
|Pepitas||1 oz||9 grams|
|Barillas high protein pasta||½ cup||10 grams|
|Banza pasta||2 oz||14 grams|
|Black beans||½ cup||8 grams|
|Refried beans||½ cup||6 grams|
|Corn||½ cup||2 grams|
|Brown Rice||½ cup||2-3 grams|
|Dave’s Killer Bread, seed||1 slice||5 grams|
Too much protein can be harmful also. High protein diets excrete calcium and can put a child’s bone health at risk. Other complications from too much protein include dehydration and kidney problems. I never recommend protein supplements or shakes for a young child unless a deficiency has been identified, and they aren’t accepting any food sources. Do speak with a pediatric dietitian if you have concerns your child is getting too much or not enough protein.
Is your child a vegetarian? See my blog post My Child Wants to be a Vegetarian!