Inside: Wondering how much protein your kids need–and whether they’re getting enough? Here’s what a day’s worth of protein actually looks like for kids!
There’s no doubt protein is crucial for everyone, especially growing kids.
But I talk to a lot of parents who are genuinely freaked out about protein, worried their carb-loving kids aren’t getting enough and pondering whether a big ol’ tub of protein powder might be helpful.
After I published my post Here’s How Many Fruits and Vegetables Kids Need Every Day, many of you asked for similar visuals for protein. You’ll find those below, plus answers to some of your biggest questions about protein.
Do Kids Get Enough Protein?
The reality is that most kids get plenty of protein–even if meat is not their favorite food. That’s because protein is found in a whole bunch of places. For most healthy kids, protein needs aren’t hard to meet.
Daily protein needs for children aren’t very high, and kids can get there pretty fast with food. In fact, government surveys show that most children, like adults, get more than enough.
According to government surveys from 2017-2018, here’s how much protein kids get:
- Ages 6-11: boys 68.8 grams; girls 60.7 grams (RDA is 19-34 grams for this age group)
- Ages 12-19: boys 86.5 grams; girls 62.0 grams (RDA is 34-53 grams for this age group)
In other words, freaking out about protein probably isn’t necessary!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 50 (Meat Free!) Protein Ideas For Kids’ Lunch Boxes
How Much Protein Your Child Needs
The daily totals I show below are based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), which are the levels of intake that meet the needs for most healthy people of that particular age, life stage, and gender. Consider the RDAs the minimum amounts needed to meet basic needs.
How much protein do toddlers and preschoolers need?
The RDA for 2-3-year-olds is 13 grams. Here’s how quickly kids can meet that:
- 1 egg = 6 grams protein
- 1/2 cup milk = 4 grams protein
- 1/2 cup peas = 3 grams protein
How much protein does a 4-8-year-old need?
The RDA for protein for 4-8-year-olds is 19 grams. Here’s what that looks like:
- 1 ounce cheese = 6 grams protein
- 3/4 cup whole grain cereal = 3 grams protein
- 1/2 cup brown rice = 3 grams protein
- 1/2 cup black beans = 7 grams protein
How much protein do tweens need?
The RDA for protein for 9-13-year-olds is 34 grams. Here’s what that looks like:
- 1 cup broccoli = 2.5 grams protein
- 1 cup cooke oatmeal with milk = 9 grams prtoein
- 1 cup yogurt = 8 grams protein
- 1/2 peanut butter sandwich = 7 grams
- 1.5 ounces canned tuna = 8 grams protein
How much protein do teenagers need?
The RDA for protein for teenagers (14-28 years old) is 52 grams for boys and 46 grams for girls. That sounds like a lot, but it adds up fast:
6 whole grain crackers = 3 grams protein
1 cup edamame = 9 grams protein
1 cup whole wheat pasta with sauce + cheese = 10 grams protein
1/2 turkey sandwich = 16 grams protein
1 cup chocolate milk = 8 grams protein
Common Questions About How Much Protein Kids Need
Are these meal plans?
No! Obviously, your child should be eating more food than this. These are just representations of how easily kids can meet the RDA for protein.
For instance, kids ages 2-3 need two cups of dairy per day to meet their calcium needs, even though I show just one-half cup of milk in the visual.
This doesn’t seem like enough protein for my child!
This is just the minimum dietary requirements that kids would need in a day. The age groups also don’t account for differences in size, weight, and activity level, so if you have a child who is tall for his age and an athlete, his needs will be greater.
But my food labels say something different.
The protein amounts shown for each food are based on estimates using USDA FoodData Central. The label on your particular bread, cereal, pasta, or yogurt may list a different amount.
Should I count up grams of protein every day?
No! I don’t advocate for obsessing over or counting up each gram of protein your child gets. Serving three balanced meals and a healthy snack or two throughout the day will provide plenty of opportunities for getting protein, not to mention the carbohydrates and healthy fats that your child needs too.
What are good protein foods for kids?
There are many other protein-rich food for kids beyond the ones I show here, such as tofu, beef, chicken, cottage cheese, seeds, nuts, and lentils. What about protein for vegetarian kids? Grab this list of 50 non-meat protein sources for kids.
Is protein powder safe for kids?
Probably, but it’s likely not necessary if you’ve got healthy kids who eat a variety of foods. Protein powders can have a lengthy ingredient list and contain ingredients like added sugar, sugar alcohol, or artificial sweeteners. It’s better to focus on getting protein from real, whole food. (If you have an extremely picky eater or a child with poor growth, talk to your pediatrician or pediatric dietitian about whether a protein powder or other drink mix can help right now.)
Help, my teen is obsessed with protein!
It’s common for teenagers, especially boys, to become fixated with protein–namely for building muscle. Here are the facts you should know about teenagers and protein.