Wondering how much protein your child needs–and whether she’s falling short? Here are some answers–and what a day’s worth of protein actually looks like!
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.
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.
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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. 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 these the minimum amounts needed to meet basic needs. As you can see, the RDAs 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 well above the RDA.
In other words, freaking out about protein probably isn’t necessary!
A few notes of common-sense caution:
- These visuals are NOT daily meal plans. Obviously, your child should be eating more food than this! These are merely 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.
- The age groups 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.
- There are many other great sources of protein beyond the ones I show here, such as tofu, beef, chicken, cottage cheese, seeds, nuts, and lentils.
- The protein amounts shown for each food are based on estimates using the USDA Nutrient Database. The label on your particular bread, cereal, pasta, or yogurt may list a different amount.
- 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.
How much protein does a 2-3 year old need per day?
How much protein does a 4-8 year old need per day?
How much protein does a 9-13 year old need per day?
How much protein does a 14-18 year old need per day?
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