- What is protein?
- Why is protein needed for kids?
- How much protein does a child need?
- List of foods with the amount of protein content
- Protein-enriched foods your kids will love
- Should your child take protein supplements?
It is not easy to know if your child is getting the right amount of macronutrients such as proteins.
We know that proteins are an important part of our diet and they help build our muscles. But what most parents may not know is the right amounts of protein a child needs, and the various food sources from where you can get them.
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient needed for building muscle mass. Macronutrients provide energy and are required in large amounts to sustain life, and hence the term “macro”. The other macronutrients are carbohydrates and fats (1).
Proteins are made up of thousands of amino acids. The amino acids are of 20 different types and are segregated into essential and non-essential amino acids. The body can make the 11 non-essential amino acids by itself, while the nine essential amino acids are sourced from food sources.
Why is protein needed for kids?
Now, let us understand how proteins work in our body and why children need them (2):
- Protein provides our body with energy or calories. Each gram of protein supplies four calories.
- Each cell in the human body contains protein and hence is imperative for the growth and development of children.
- Protein helps our body to build new cells and repair old tissues and cells.
- It is essential for the wellness of the skin, bones, hair, nails, and internal organs. It is also found in all the body fluids.
- Protein is imperative for many biological processes like blood clotting, hormone and enzyme production, and fluid balance.
These functions make it inevitable for a child to take proteins in the right amounts.
How much protein does a child need?
Here is what the World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO) recommends (3):
- 0.9g/kg/day for boys aged 3 to 18 years and girls aged 3 to 15 years
- 0.8g/kg/day for girls between 15 and 18 years of age
|Age||Daily protein recommendation|
|1-3 years||13 grams (g) or 2ounce-equivalent*|
|4-8 years||19g or 4 ounce-equivalent|
|9-13 years||34g or 5 ounce-equivalent#|
|14-18 years||46g (girls) or 6 ounce-equivalent|
52g (boys) or 6.5 ounce-equivalent
* In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent.
# Until a kid is 14 years of age, the amount of protein intake is the same for boys and girls.
According to experts, 10-30% of your child’s calories should come from proteins, while the rest should be coming from foods containing fats and carbohydrates (6).
List of foods with the amount of protein content
Here we share with you the US MyPlate chart of foods and their protein content (5).
|Foods||Specific amount that counts as 1oz-equivalent protein foods||Common portions for kids and their ounce-equivalent|
|Meats||1oz cooked lean pork/ham|
1oz cooked lean beef
|1 steak = 3.5-4 ounce-equivalent|
1 lean hamburger = 2-3 ounce-equivalent
|Poultry||1 sandwich with a slice of turkey|
1oz cooked skinless turkey/chicken
|1/2 Cornish game hen = 4 ounce-equivalent|
1 small chicken breast half = 3 ounce-equivalent
|Seafood||1oz fish or shellfish||1 trout = 3 ounce-equivalent|
1 salmon steak = 4-6 ounce-equivalent
1 can of tuna = 3-4 ounce-equivalent
|Eggs||1 egg||3 egg whites = 2 ounce-equivalent|
3 egg yolks = 1 ounce-equivalent
|Nuts and seeds||1tbsp almond butter|
1tbsp peanut butter
Pumpkin, squash seeds, sunflower (hulled and roasted) = 1/2oz of seeds
12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves = 1/2oz
|1oz of seeds or nuts = 2 ounce-equivalent|
|Beans and peas||1/4 cup cooked beans|
1/4 cup cooked peas
1/4 cup tofu
1/4 cup roasted soybeans
1 falafel patty
1oz cooked tempeh
|1 cup split pea soup = 2 ounce-equivalent|
1 cup lentil soup = 2 ounce-equivalent
1 cup bean soup = 2 ounce-equivalent
1 soy or bean burger patty = 2 ounce-equivalent
Note: Protein foods are also important sources of minerals and vitamins like vitamin B6, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D, vitamin E, etc.
Protein-enriched foods your kids will love
If your little one is a picky eater, try the foods that children find appetizing, and are also an excellent source of protein.
- Cheeseburger (with meat/cheese)
- Grilled cheese sandwich
- Scrambled eggs and cheese
- Turkey roll-ups
- Tuna sandwich
- Vegetable burger
- Pasta (with turkey/chicken)
- Jelly sandwich
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Soup with meatballs
- Protein-rich cereals
- Cheese pizza
- Burrito with cheese and beans
- Yogurt parfait with fruits
While choosing protein-rich meals, take care that the foods are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and added sugars.
In their eagerness to supply proteins to their children, some parents might want to try supplements such as protein shakes or powders. But before buying them, know if your child needs those extra proteins.
Should your child take protein supplements?
Your child may not need supplements as long as they are getting it through natural food sources. Do not give protein supplements to your child without the doctor’s advice.
Here are some facts you should know about protein supplements (7):
- Contrary to popular belief, a child who is physically active or trying to put on muscle mass does not need to consume extra protein.
- Although many dietary supplements are made from natural sources, it does not necessarily mean they are safe.
- Federal regulations for dietary supplements like protein powders, drinks, or protein bars are less strict than prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
- Supplements may be of poor quality with contaminants such as chemicals or drugs. Studies have proven that there are differences between what’s on the label and the actual content.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body. Children need a balanced diet that contains all the essential nutrients. And that comes only with a varied supply of healthy and nutritious food. Remember, there are no shortcuts for a healthy growth of your child.
Do you have any questions to ask or inputs to share on proteins? Let us know in the comment section below.
2. Interactive nutrition fact label, US Food and Drug Administration.
3. Agneta Hörnell, Hanna Lagström, Britt Lande, and Inga Thorsdottir; Protein intake from 0 to 18 years of age and its relation to health: a systematic literature review for the 5th Nordic Nutrition Recommendations; NCBI.
4. Nutritional goals for age-sex groups based on dietary reference intakes and dietary guidelines recommendations; Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
5. All about the protein foods group; Choose MyPlate; United States Department of Agriculture.
6. Why extra protein for your child is unnecessary — and possibly dangerous; Cleveland Clinic.
7. 10 things to know about dietary supplements for children and teens; National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
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