How Much Protein Do Kids Need?

Are you worried your child isn’t getting enough protein in their foods? I’m a Registered Dietitian here to debunk how much protein your kid actually needs in a day.

What Is Protein?

To answer the question, “How much protein do kids need?” we must first understand what protein. It is one of the three main macronutrients in food. Read my blog post on macronutrient basics here.
Protein consists of 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential for growth during childhood. These help repair muscle, skin, organs, blood, hair and nails and help regulates the immune system.
Protein is in more than meat alone. A lot of food contains protein, even vegetables like broccoli. Here is a list of good sources of protein:

  • Chicken
  • Fish: like salmon and tuna
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cows Milk
  • Soy milk
  • Meat Alternatives like tofu, tempeh, soy meats
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and nut butters

Protein Needs For Children By Age Group

  • 1-3 year old 13 grams/day
  • 4-9 years old only needs about 19 grams/day
  • 9-13 years old need about 34 grams/day
  • Boys 14-18 years old need 52 grams/day
  • Girls 14-18 years old need 46 grams/day

Protein Examples for each age group

Now that we know how much protein do kids need, lets see it in action in a days food offerings!
For a toddler (1-3 year old) this might look like an egg (6g)+ one cup of milk (8g)=14 g
For 4-9 year old’s: 8 oz soy milk (8g) + 2 tbsp peanut butter (7 g) + 1 slice whole wheat bread (2-5 g/slice)= 21grams protein
For 9-13 year old’s: 1 cup of Chobani Greek yogurt (12g) + 2 slices of turkey lunch meat (11grams) + 1 slice of cheese (5 g) + 2 slices whole wheat bread (6 g protein) is 34 grams.
As you can see it can be pretty easy to meet protein requirements. As parents of healthy children we do not need to be counting our children’s calories or protein in each meal, rather ensure you’re offering a variety of food groups at each meal to meet their needs.

What If Your Child Doesn’t Meet Their Protein Needs

One source says that 1 in 7 children in the US do not get enough protein daily. This might be due to children consuming around 30% of their daily calories from processed snacks. Not getting enough protein can affect a child in a variety of ways depending on the severity of the deficiency. It can lead to decreased cognitive function, lowered immunity, bone or joint pain, delayed growth and maturation, slow wound healing and decreased muscle growth.
Instead of offering packaged snacks you could offer foods like Greek yogurt, cheese sticks, fruit, trail mix, etc for smart snacking. If you feel like your child isn’t getting enough protein in their diet, talk to your Pediatrician and a Registered Dietitian to set up a plan. You can book a session with me here.

Can You Give A Child Too Much Protein?

In short, yes but it’s uncommon. Too much protein can over load the kidneys and liver, contributing to dehydration or potentially kidney stones according to a source. Another source, states Other symptoms are nausea, diarrhea, and intestinal discomfort. Unless your Pediatrician or Registered Dietitian recommend protein supplements or protein bars for your child, these are best avoided and real food sources are best offered.

1. Abbott
2. Eat Like a Champion by Jill Castle
3. Children’s Hospital

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