Protein-rich foods your picky eater will love

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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).

A few of the crucial functions of protein in the body are (4)(5):

  1. Each cell in the human body is made up of protein and hence is imperative for the growth and development of children.
  2. 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.
  3. Enzymes, which are made of proteins, act as catalysts in various biochemical reactions in the body to ensure proper growth and development in children.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

The recommended average dietary intake of protein for children in the age group 3-8 years is 19g a day (6). Children in the age group 9-13 years are recommended 34g a day (7).

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

This table contains age-wise daily protein requirement for your child (8)(9).

AgeDaily protein recommendation
1-3 years13 grams (g) or 2ounce-equivalent*
4-8 years19g or 4 ounce-equivalent
9-13 years34g or 5 ounce-equivalent#
14-18 years46g (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).

FoodsSpecific amount that counts as 1oz-equivalent protein food Common portions for kids and their ounce-equivalent
Meats1oz cooked lean pork/ham

1oz cooked lean beef

1 steak = 3.5-4 ounce-equivalent

1 lean hamburger = 2-3 ounce-equivalent

Poultry1 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

Seafood1oz fish or shellfish1 trout = 3 ounce-equivalent

1 salmon steak = 4-6 ounce-equivalent

1 can of tuna = 3-4 ounce-equivalent

Eggs1 egg3 egg whites = 2 ounce-equivalent

3 egg yolks = 1 ounce-equivalent

Nuts and seeds1tbsp 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 peas1/4 cup cooked beans

1/4 cup cooked peas

1/4 cup tofu

1/4 cup roasted soybeans

1 falafel patty

2tbsp hummus

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).

[Read: High Protein Breakfast Ideas For Kids]

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):

  1. Contrary to popular belief, a child who is physically active or trying to put on muscle mass does not need to consume extra protein.
  2. Although many dietary supplements are made from natural sources, it does not necessarily mean they are safe.
  3. Federal regulations for dietary supplements like protein powders, drinks, or protein bars are less strict than prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Protein;The Nutrition Source;Harvard School of Public Health

2. Protein;Nutrition Science;British Nutrition Foundation

4. What are proteins and what do they do?;Genetics Home Reference;U.S National Library for Medicine;National Institutes of Health (2019)

5. Peptide Hormones;The Medical Biochemistry Page (2019)

6. Nutritional Requirements throughout the Life Cycle;Nutrition Guide for Clinicians;Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (2018)

7. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Total Water and Macronutrients;Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies;National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2011)

8. Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations;Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations;Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

9. All About The Protein Foods Group;Choose My Plate;USDA

10. Jay R. Hoffman and Michael J. Falvo;Protein – Which is Best?;National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2004)

11. 10 Things To Know About Dietary Supplements for Children and Teens;National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health;National Institutes of Health (2018)