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Ask a Nutritionist - I am worried my 3 year old isn't eating enough protein. How much is enough?

At some point during their child’s life most parents become concerned about whether or not they are consuming enough protein. Kids can go through periods where they reject entire macronutrients! For instance, many children go through periods where they will only eat carbohydrates. “No mummy! I want bread / potatoes / cereal / rice / crackers / noodles!” Sound familiar?


Little girl holding a brown egg up to her face to look at it closely

The good news is that it can be easier to incorporate adequate amounts of protein into a child’s diet than you think. Encouraging a variety of healthy protein rich meals and snacks and using a few sneaky tricks can ensure that your child is getting the optimal amount of protein in their diet.

Protein is a macronutrient that is composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Proteins are made up of combinations of 22 naturally occurring amino acids, 9 of which are essential (must be acquired through diet because the body cannot manufacture them). Protein is required as part of a healthy diet in order to facilitate growth and the formation of new tissues, repair muscle tissue, manufacture hormones and antibodies and enzymes. The Canadian Recommended Daily Allowance of Protein for children 1-3 years old is 13 grams per day.* Now, that might sound like a lot. But consider the amount of protein in the following healthy sources:


  • Hummus - 1 gram protein per tablespoon

  • Natural Peanut Butter - 4 grams protein per tablespoon

  • Sunflower Seed Butter - 4 grams per tablespoon

  • Quinoa - 4 grams protein per 1/2 cup

  • Black Beans - 4 grams protein per 1/4 cup

  • Eggs - 7 grams protein per egg

  • Hemp Hearts - 4 grams protein per tablespoon

  • Tempeh - 8 grams protein per 1/4 cup

  • Cooked Oats - 3 grams protein per 1/2 cup

  • Boneless Chicken Breast - 8 grams protein per ounce

  • Salmon Filet - 7 grams of protein per oz

  • Plain Kefir - 6 grams of protein per 1/2 cup

  • Sprouted Rice Protein Powder - 16 grams of protein per scoop

  • Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder - 19 grams of protein per scoop

Therefore, a two year old's diet may include the following foods in order to acquire the recommended amount of daily protein:


Breakfast - 1/4 cup cooked oats topped with 1 tbsp. sunflower seed butter (3.5 grams)

Snack - Rice cracker topped with homemade egg salad (7 grams)

Lunch -2 tablespoons hummus, sliced cucumbers and fruit of choice (2 grams)

Dinner - Chicken Fingers, steamed broccoli, baked sweet potato (8 grams)


If your child is a picky eater, I strongly suggest supplementing with a high quality protein powder that can be added to smoothies, muffins, pancakes, oatmeal, and homemade granola bars or energy bites.


Note:

  • Excellent complete protein combinations for vegetarians include: grains + legumes, nuts + legumes, and seeds + legumes.

  • These protein sources do not take potential allergies or intolerances into consideration.

  • Choose organic sources of animal protein whenever possible.

*https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/dietary-reference-intakes/tables/reference-values-macronutrients-dietary-reference-intakes-tables-2005.html

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