Many kids are not big meat eaters, so it’s easy to worry that your child is not getting enough protein in his diet. Children have greater protein requirements based on their weight versus adults due to their growth and development.
Because protein is used to build and repair tissue, kids who are active in sports may need even more protein in their diet. Protein is also essential because it helps transport vitamins and minerals throughout the body and fight infections.
“Fortunately, it’s easier than you may think to get adequate protein in your child’s diet,” said Lindsay Bailey, a registered dietitian in Akron Children’s Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology. “Along with well-known sources of protein such as lean meats and dairy products, there are other food sources that contain protein that you may not have considered.”
Protein is divided into two main sources. Animal protein includes the protein found in meat, fish and poultry, while plant protein is found in such foods as beans, nuts and nut butters.
When choosing lean sources of animal protein for your family, look for meats labeled “Select,” which have the lowest fat content. Those labeled as “Choice” have a moderate amount of fat and those labeled “Prime” have the highest.
“Chicken and turkey are good sources of lean protein, especially boneless and skinless breasts or lunch meats that have 3 grams of fat or less in a 1-ounce serving,” said Lindsay. “As far as red meat, anything with ‘loin’ in the name is a good choice as well as ground beef that’s labeled at least 90/10, meaning it’s 90 percent lean meat and 10 percent fat.”
By offering your child a variety of foods and looking for ways to add extra protein to your favorite dishes, you’ll ensure your child gets the protein his growing body needs.
Lindsay suggests these 8 ways to sneak more protein into your child’s diet:
1. Go nuts for nut butters. While most kids love peanut butter, options like sunflower seed, almond and cashew butters give you an opportunity to try something new or make substitutions for kids with peanut allergies.
2. Drink your milk. Adding a glass of milk to every meal is another way to boost your child’s protein intake. If your child is lactose-intolerant, soy milk is a good choice because it is more nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk. Adding milk in place of water to canned tomato or creamed soups is another way to increase protein.
3. Give your smoothie a protein boost. Adding tofu, milk, nut butters, Greek yogurt or chia seeds to smoothies is a great way to sneak in extra protein. Because tofu absorbs the flavors of foods, it will add creaminess to your child’s favorite smoothie without changing the taste.
4. Rethink pasta as a protein source. Pastas made with beans or chickpeas offer a lot more protein than regular pasta and are an easy way to add more protein to meals.
5. Opt for whole grains. Whole grain foods contain more protein than those made with refined grains, such as white bread, rice or flour. Substitute whole grains such as quinoa to make a protein-packed fried rice. Quinoa is also a great source of essential amino acids.
6. Amp up your oatmeal. Whole-grain oats are an excellent choice for your child’s breakfast, but by making oatmeal with milk or adding nut butters or chia seeds, you’ll increase the protein content.
7. Don’t forget beans. Beans are another great source of protein and can easily be added to soups and stews to increase the protein in your child’s diet. Combine black beans with quinoa and corn salsa for your own take on a burrito bowl.
8. Promote smart snacking. Offer good protein sources at snack time, especially if your child didn’t eat much protein at mealtime. Good choices include string cheese, a slice of turkey, Greek yogurt or hummus as a dip with fresh veggies.