Protein: Is your child getting enough?

author

Cherry is the Nutrition & Regulatory Manager at Fonterra and holds a BSc in Nutrition (Hons).

As your children grow, their overall food consumption and nutrient requirements change vastly. It probably won’t surprise you that a one year old has very different eating habits to an eight year old. Along with encouraging a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains, getting adequate amounts of dairy and other protein rich foods into their diets can not only help to keep them satisfied, but will help their rapidly growing bodies to develop well. 

While protein is required for normal growth and development in children, the amount that they require can differ with age and weight.

So how do we make sure that our children are getting enough protein, and how much is enough? Children have different protein requirements to adults. . This is because the proportion of protein they need from energy is not as high. While protein is required for normal growth and development in children, the amount that they require can differ with age and weight. However, it’s unfortunate to know that children in the Philippines have insufficient protein in their diets.

The below table, based on Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intake, tells you the minimum amount of protein your child should have each day:

Age
Recommended Dietary Intake of Protein per day (Boys)
Recommended Dietary Intake of Protein per day (Girls)

1-3 years

2.15 g/kg of body weight

2.15 g/kg of body weight

4-8 years

2 g/kg of body weight
2 g/kg of body weight

7-9 years

1.8 g/kg of body weight 1.8 g/kg of body weight

10-12

years

1.6 g/kg of body weight 1.4 g/kg of body weight

 

For example, a Filipino toddler who weighs about 14kgs will need around 28g of protein a day. A 7 year old weighing 22kg will need about 44g a day and an average 11 year old girl weighing about 30kg will need at least 48g per day.

What does having enough protein for growth & development look like?

Protein is found in a variety of foods that can appeal to even the fussiest of eaters – including lean meat, dairy, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. The National Nutrition Council recommends children and adults with 2 glasses of milk and 2-3 servings of other protein sources, including dairy, per day. So a glass of milk, a few slices of cheese and some fish or meat, or alternatives such as nuts or legumes, will get them well on their way to getting enough protein into their day.

The table below shows some foods that contain sources of protein that can easily be included to your child’s diet:

Food
Portion
Protein per portion
Cheddar Cheese
34 g (2 slices) 5.6 g
Yoghurt
100g 
4.5 g
Egg
1 boiled
6.5 g
Milk (full fat)
1 cup
8.5 g
Cashew Nuts
10 nuts
2.1 g
Chicken Breast
1/2 breast
16.7 g
Ground Beef
1/2 cup
20.3 g
Salmon Fillet
1/2 cup
21. 5g
Chick Peas
1 cup
5.3 g

 

In practical terms, if a toddler is having cereal with milk for breakfast, half an egg with lunch and 1/6th of a chicken breast with their dinner, plus a small cup of milk before bed they are certainly getting enough protein. A seven year old would need to eat a little bit more protein – this could be as easy as providing them with yoghurt with lunch, one quarter of a chicken breast with dinner and/or a larger cup of milk before bed. You may also want to include an afternoon or morning snack of nuts or cheese.

Understanding where to find good sources of protein is one part of the journey – encouraging your children to eat them is another! Try getting them involved in preparing and cooking meals, encouraging them to help make or even prepare their own packed lunch when they are old enough. The more familiar children become with foods, the more likely they are to try new foods.