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Nutritional Health|31 May 2022

High-Protein food for kids (and why it’s important)

Written by Aahat Sajnani
Ms. Aahat is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with experience in medical nutrition therapy. She takes consultations for nutrition-related medical conditions, including obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, eating disorders, and gastrointestinal infections. Ms. Aahat earned her master’s degree in Dietetics from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 2018. Soon after, she obtained the Registered Dietitian credential from the Commission on Dietetic Registration, USA. Since then, she has worked with clients to improve their nutrition status, eating habits, lifestyle and general wellbeing.

What is Protein?

Proteins are a very important nutrient. They are essentially the building blocks of life. Our muscles, organs, hair, skin, and nails are all made of, repaired by, and maintained by protein. They also work as enzymes, hormones, and immune molecules in our bodies. These are all very important functions that allow our children’s bodies to grow and develop into strong, healthy adults. 

Proteins are made up of small molecules called amino acids, and there are 20 amino acids in total. Our bodies can naturally produce 11 of these amino acids, and the remaining 9 are found only in our diets. This is why it is necessary to maintain a well balanced diet with protein-rich foods, especially as a child. 

Why do we need protein?

Protein is key for children’s growth and development. Children who do not get enough protein in their diets can be prone to fatigue, poor concentration, delayed growth, and a weaker immune system. This means that your child may be more likely to fall sick, struggle in school, or face stunted growth. These symptoms can have a large impact on overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, it is important to ensure that children are getting enough protein in their diet. 

How much protein do we need?

We recommend serving protein-rich foods to children at least 2 times per day, and 3 times if your child is vegetarian.

How much protein your child needs in grams:

  • Children aged 4-9 need 19g of protein per day.
  • Children aged 9-13 need 34g of protein per day. 
  • Girls aged 14-18 need 46g of protein per day.
  • Boys aged 14-18 need 52g of protein per day.

The amount of protein each child needs to sustain healthy growth and a strengthened immune system depends on a lot of different factors, including weight, gender, and age. Though we offer some guidelines, we always recommend checking with your child’s pediatrician to make sure their diet and protein consumption is right for them. 

Sources of protein: 

It’s clear that protein is essential for our children’s healthy growth and development, yet recent studies have shown that one in seven school aged children do not meet their recommended daily protein intake. Sometimes it can be difficult to know the protein content of food, so we have provided rough guidelines below, and we suggest searching for the protein content of foods online if you are confused. Now that we know what protein does for our children’s bodies and minds, let’s explore the different foods that contain protein and should be a regular part of your child’s diet. 

  1. Lentils are a great source of protein, with roughly 18g of protein per cup. They are also incredibly versatile, and can be used in a variety of dishes, including daals, salads, and rice-based dishes. They also contain other nutrients, like fiber, manganese, and iron, that are key in a healthy, balanced diet. 
  1. Oats are an easy way to start your child’s day with protein and a long-lasting energy boost. One cup of oats contains about 10g of protein. We suggest making oats with simple masalas for a tasty breakfast, or with cinnamon and sugar if your child prefers a sweeter start to their day. 
  1. Beans are a great way to increase your child’s protein intake. Consumed in hummus, simple bean tacos, or in a hearty soup, beans contain about 15g of protein per cup, and are usually well-liked by children. 
  1. Nuts and seeds are a great addition to your child’s diet. In addition to healthy fats essential for their growth, one ounce of nuts contain roughly 5-7 grams of protein. They are easy to pack in your child’s school lunchbox for a midday snack, in a nut butter spread on toast, and you can even find flavoured versions (like masala or barbecue) to encourage your child to eat them. 
  1. Certain vegetables can be excellent sources of protein as well. We recommend broccoli, spinach, asparagus, and sweet corn, which all contain 4-5 grams of protein per cup. These are best consumed in a salad, stir-fry, or spinach can be mixed in with daal for an extra protein boost. Root vegetables are also key – regular potato and sweet potato are high in protein and delicious when cooked. 
  1. Green peas are commonly used in Indian recipes, like in aloo mattar or paneer mattar, pav bhaji, or green peas masala. Green peas contain 9 grams of protein per cup, and are very easy to include in a typical Indian diet. 
  1. Soy is very versatile, with tofu, edamame, and soy milk all originating from soya beans. It is also a whole protein, providing your body with all the amino acids it needs to perform essential functions, and roughly containing 12-20g of protein per 100g. We like to replace paneer with tofu in traditional Indian dishes for an extra protein boost or eat edamame boiled with some salt sprinkled on top. Soy milk is also a great high-protein option that is also full of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.