Questions around protein intake are common, for kids and adults alike.
Understanding your child’s macronutrient requirements can be confusing and overwhelming. Kids tend to gravitate toward carb-rich meals, and it’s often easier to appease them with foods they enjoy and that feels safe and familiar than try to ‘rock the boat’ with different options.
But this might leave you questioning how much protein (or fats and carbohydraates for that matter), your child actually needs?
And are they meeting their daily requirement through the foods they are eating?
So why do our kids actually need protein?
There are many reasons!
A few include:
- Protein is essential for growth – something children spend a great deal of time and energy doing
- Protein helps with blood sugar regulation. This means more stable moods and better sleep.
- Protein is essential for actually helping your child fall asleep. Who doesn’t want that, right!?
How much protein does your child actually need?
Australian dietary guidelines state that the recommended daily protein intake for children are as follows:
Infants 0-6 months: 10g
7-12 months: 14g
1-3 years: 14g
4-8 years: 20g
From the age of 9 it then varies between male and female, with boys needing between 40-65g and girls needing between 35-45g depending on age group.
It’s important to note that the above figures are a guide and don’t take into account things like height, weight and activity level. A tall child doing regular competitive sport for example, would likely require more protein.
It is also recommended that the above guidelines are spread throughout the day for proper digestion, blood sugar regulation and growth. So for example, rather than consuming the whole 20g at dinner, it is recommended that approximately 7g be consumed with each meal.
What does 7g of protein look like?
It’s easy enough to give such a guideline, but what does that actually equate to? Well to put it into perspective:
1 egg = 7g
1 can tuna = 20g
½ cup yoghurt = 8g
2 tbsp hummus = 2g
1 cup milk (full cream = 8g
½ cup of cooked lentils = 6g
100g cooked chicken = 27g
How can you encourage your child to eat more protein?
Maybe your child is a fussy eater with an aversion to certain meats?
For assistance with this why not look into my Fussy Bunch membership designed specifically for fussy eaters.
Or perhaps your family is plant-based?
Either way there are some clever ways that you can encourage your child to eat more protein-rich foods:
Introduce a protein source into breakfast
If vegemite or avocado on toast is a staple why not add a boiled egg on top. Eggs are a great source of protein and usually well tolerated by children.
Give lentil pasta a try
Alternative pastas have come a long way in recent years. Chickpea and red lentil pasta can now be found in the health food aisle of most supermarkets, not only are they protein rich but they are pretty tasty too.
Bulk up snack time
Snack time is the perfect time to bulk up protein intake. Switch up the afternoon sugar-filled yoghurt pot with a greek yoghurt alternative drizzled in raw honey and topped with puffed grain and crushed nuts (if tolerated). Alternatively, opt for a slice of nitrite free ham and cheese for a modern-day ploughmans.
Other snack ideas include:
Remember everything in moderation and while protein is essential, too much can cause constipation and other digestive and kidney issues. Try not to over supply your kids with the meaty stuff but instead focus on a healthy macro mix.
Worried that your child might not be eating enough protein? Keep an eye out for iron deficiency which is increasingly common in children. For more information have a read of this blog on iron deficiency here.