Is My Child Getting Enough Protein?

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A girl not eating her dinner.Long before I became a mom, I babysat for my toddler niece. My sister had prepared a dinner of chicken, broccoli, and potato. As she left for the night, my sister said, “If she won’t eat her dinner, there’s yogurt in the fridge.” 

“No worries,” I said. “I’ll get her to eat her dinner.” Ninety minutes later, my adorable niece was sitting on the bathroom floor, hugging the base of the sink, screaming,  “I WANT MY MOMMY! I WANT MY MOMMY!”.  

Beaten down (easily), I said, “Would you like a yogurt?” “Okay,” she said, and that was that. That was my first foray into, “Hmm…this whole feeding my kids the perfect diet might be harder than I thought.” 

The good news is that there’s no such thing as “the perfect diet” for adults or kids, and there are many ways to feed your kids nutritiously and get enough protein into their diet.

My Child Won’t Eat Meat

I often hear concerns from friends and clients like, “I’m afraid my daughter isn’t getting enough protein. She won’t eat meat or fish.” There are many ways to satisfy your child’s protein needs, and often we are more stressed out about our children not eating specific foods we think are best for them than we need to be. While reintroducing foods is important to get your child to accept different foods, in the meantime…

Protein; It’s Easier to Get Than You Think!

A child age 1-3 needs about 13 grams of protein a day. A child 4-6 needs about 19 grams a day. Here are some non-meat ways to easily get in a day’s protein needs.

  • 8 oz of milk in the morning (8 grams)
  • An egg for lunch (6 grams) – Most health experts recommend egg yolk only for under one year due to the potential for allergic reaction. 
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt for a snack (4 grams for regular, about 10 grams for Greek)
  • 1/4 cup lentils with dinner (4 grams)

Other great protein sources include low sodium cottage cheese (12 grams per half-cup), low sodium beans (8 grams per half-cup), cheese (7 grams per ounce), nuts: if no allergy concern (3 grams per Tbs.), and even grain foods like oatmeal contain protein (3 grams per half-cup, more if cooked with milk). Quinoa, technically a seed, has 6 grams of protein per 1/3 cup cooked.

But Doesn’t He Need Meat for Iron?

Getting enough iron is likely not an issue if your child eats meat a few times a week. But if meat is often rejected, then including daily iron-fortified cereal like iron-fortified oatmeal or Cheerios are great choices. And including beans or lentils once a day are sources as well. Note that iron is better absorbed with Vitamin C, so serving berries or mangoes with fortified cereal or a green vegetable like broccoli with lentils makes the iron even easier to absorb.

Tastes change, and children go through phases, so keep reintroducing foods and try preparing the foods in different ways (maybe your little one won’t eat baked chicken but enjoys chicken in a casserole). And in the meantime, rest assured that just because your child doesn’t eat everything, they are still well nourished.

What protein sources do your kids enjoy?

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Elysa Cruse is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer and is the Manager of the Corporate Wellness Program for Pitney Bowes (www.pbprojectliving.com). She moved to Fairfield County after college and has been enjoying great ways to be active and eat well in the area ever since, including teaching exercise classes such as Stroller Strides, Pilates and Boot Camp. She is mom to an adorable 3 year old boy and loves getting outdoors whether hiking, biking, or running (really anything as long as it's not weeding). Elysa is still working on the ultimate in work life balance and she's okay if she never quite finds it. Connect with Elysa on Twitter @ElysaCruseRD

4 COMMENTS

  1. Peanut butter, eggs, and dairy were our protein sources for our girl for a few years since she wouldn’t eat meat. Now she eats both chicken and fish, so she’s good to go. Like you said, tasted change over time.

    As for iron, that was a bit harder. A mix of pasta, bread, PB, and cheerios helped to keep her at a decent level (her iron was always on the low side, though our PED was not concerned). Label reading is important at our house!

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