Protein is one of the macronutrients needed for growth, development, and sustenance (1). It is made up of amino acids, which are categorized into twotypes, namelyessential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are termed as essential as the body cannot produce them can be obtained through diet (2).
There are nine essential amino acids and 11 non-essential amino acids, thus bringing the total to 20 amino acids.
In this post, MomJunctiontells you why protein is essential for children, how much they need, and the food sources that are rich in protein.
Why Is Protein EssentialForChildren?
Proteins support the body in having a healthy growth. Protein intake in childhood is said to help ward off the risk of non-communicable diseases in adulthood (3).
- Each cell in the human body is made up of protein and hence is imperative for the growth and development of children.
- Protein supports the body against the wear and tear of the tissues. Thus, it is essential for the wellness of the skin, bones, hair, nails, and internal organs. It is also found in all body fluids.
- Enzymes, which are made of proteins, act as catalysts in various biochemical reactions in the body to ensure proper growth and development in children.
- Antibodies are crucial for children as they are most vulnerable to infections. Protein is required to make antibodies that are the tools of the immune system.
- Hormones are vitalfor the body. Some crucial hormones like growth hormone and epinephrine are made from protein.
These functions make it imperative for a child to have sufficient proteins.
How Much Protein Does A Child Need?
World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO) makes the recommendation based on the child’s body weight and age (3):
- 9g/kg/day for boys aged 3 to 18 years and girls aged 3 to 15 years
- 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.
[Read: High Protein Snacks For Kids]
List Of Foods With The Amount Of Protein Content
Here we share with you the US MyPlate chart of foods and their protein content (9).
|Foods||Specific amount that counts as 1oz-equivalent protein food||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.
The protein quality is high in foods, which are high in essential amino acid. For instance, an egg has so many amino acids in it that its biological value score is more than 90% (10).
Protein-Enriched Foods Your Children Might Love
If your little one is a picky eater, try the foods that they might find appetizing, and are also an excellent source of quality protein.
- Egg sandwich
- Grilled cheese sandwich
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Tuna sandwich
- Scrambled eggs and cheese salad
- Smoothies (made of milk)
- Turkey roll-ups
- Pasta (with turkey/chicken)
- Tofu and green bean burger
- Soup with meatballs
- Protein-rich cereals like quinoa
- Yogurt parfait with fruits
- Nuts such as almonds and pecans and seeds such as sesame and pumpkin
NOTE: While choosing protein-rich meals, take care that the food sources selected are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and added sugars. Prefer to add lean meat cuts and explore high protein cereals and grains. While doing so, do not get overwhelmed with the aim and divert from natural food sources to supplements.
Should Your Child Take Protein Supplements?
Your child may not need supplements as long as they are getting proteins 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 (11):
- 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.
- If the supplements are really necessary, the child’s doctor will recommend them accordingly.
Children need a balanced diet that contains all the essential nutrients. Remember, there are no shortcuts for the healthy growth of your child. So follow the principle of moderation and variety and plan a wholesome high-quality protein diet for your growing child.
[Read: Healthy Snacks For Kids]
Do you have any questions to ask or inputs to share on proteins? Let us know in the comment section below.