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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Protein needs for toddlers & preschoolers: How much protein does a 2-3 year old need per day?
Protein needs for young kids: How much protein does a 4-8 year old need per day?
Protein needs for tweens: How much protein does a 9-13 year old need per day?
Protein needs for teenagers: How much protein does a 14-18 year old need per day?
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!
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 the USDA Nutrient Database. The label on your particular bread, cereal, pasta, or yogurt may list a different amount.
Should I count up grams everyday?
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 other good sources of protein 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.)
Want more on children’s nutrition?
- Here’s What A Day’s Worth of Sugar For Kids Really Looks Like
- Here’s How Many Fruits and Vegetables Kids Need Every Day
- Should You Make Your Kids Take “Just One Bite”?
- What Are The Best Drinks For Kids?
- 5 Easy Mistakes That Make Your Kid’s Picky Eating Even Worse