We know that children need protein for muscle growth and repair, but just how much do they need? The requirements are based on weight and come from the Institute of Medicine. Here’s how they break down. The requirements are the same for girls and boys through age 13.
0-12 months: .45 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day
1 – 3 years: .4 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day
4-13 years: .35 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day
It’s easy to calculate: Just take your child’s weight in pounds and multiply by the appropriate number above to get the grams of protein they need per day. So if your 3-year-old preschooler weighs 30 pounds, that means she needs about 12 grams of protein each day. Very doable! Let’s take a look at some healthy ways to make sure your child is getting enough for their growing body.
2 of 8Photo: John Autry
Everyone’s Favorite Protein: Chicken
Chicken is an excellent, low-fat source of protein—and kids love it! Unfortunately, it’s often served to them breaded, fried, and nugget-shaped. Kids will love healthier preparations of chicken just as much–as long as they taste good.
This chicken burger is a winner with the whole family. Cook the patties and then let your kids assemble their own burgers. Each one has 29 grams of protein. You can also make them slider size for a fun twist. They go great with our
3 of 8Photo: John Autry
Let ‘Em Get Sloppy
Little ones like hand-held foods, and a sloppy joe is always popular. It’s also a great opportunity to add in vegetables, like carrots, as in this sloppy joe recipe, which is made with lean ground beef. Each serving provides 23 grams of protein, 111mg of calcium, and 4mg of iron.
4 of 8Photo: Randy Mayor
Power Up Young Bodies with an Ancient Grain
Quinoa is the "it" grain these days and for good reason: It’s versatile, quick cooking (15 minutes!), nutty, and delicious. It's one of the few plant foods that provide a complete protein, and it's also high in heart-healthy potassium, immune-boosting zinc, and iron. Plus, it’s gluten-free.
Kids will love the tangy apricots and crunchy pistachios in this quinoa salad, which serves up 10 grams of protein and nearly 11 grams of fiber per serving. Because the grains are so small, they can be tough for little hands to pick up. Try wrapping this salad up in a small whole-grain tortilla or filling mini pitas with it.
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Main dishes aren’t the only way for kids to get protein. After school snacks are a great opportunity too.
Our edamame dip serves up 4 grams of protein per 3 tablespoons and encourages your child to eat their veggies. Offer up a colorful assortment of bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, sliced jicama, sugar snap peas, and carrots, and watch them disappear!
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Fish Sticks the Healthy Way
Most kids are not fans of protein with fins, but they’re generally open to fish sticks, which are easy for even 1-year-olds to eat. Most adults know they should be getting more fish in their diets, but they forget it’s important for the whole family. Not only is seafood a lean source of protein that is great for heart health, the omega-3 fats found in fish are essential for a child’s developing brain.
This recipe for fish sticks serves up about 18 grams of protein per 3 fish sticks, which is the perfect serving size for kids.
7 of 8Photo: Randy Mayor
Don’t Forget About Breakfast
Not only is breakfast the most important meal of the day, it’s a great opportunity to get kid-friendly protein on the table.
Mini frittatas are easy for parents to make and for kids to pick up and eat. Win-win! This recipe uses a mini muffin pan. The frittatas can be made in advance and reheated before serving. They are perfect for lunches too! Each bite-sized frittata has 4.4 grams of protein.
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Greek yogurt has the benefit of being higher in protein than regular yogurt, plus it has a wonderfully rich texture. And when swirled with a sweet berry sauce, Greek yogurt becomes a very decadent treat whether you’re 5 or 50!
Our Greek yogurt recipe delivers about 12 grams of protein and 131 mg of bone-building calcium.