Your Kid May Not Be a Body Builder, but They Need Lots of Protein Too


Written by Britney Young on July 13, 2015
Medically Reviewed by Sharon Blackerby, MSN, RN-BC July 15, 2015

What’s the big deal about protein anyway? 

Lean turkey, Greek yogurt, nuts, and lentils –you may already know these foods are wholesome staples to add to your diet. One of the things that make these foods healthy options is that they are good sources of protein. Proteins are known as the building blocks of life. Nearly every cell in the human body contains protein. Proteins are needed in your diet to help the body repair cells and make new ones. When you eat a protein-dense food (such as fish, legumes, or dairy), your body begins breaking it down into smaller particles called amino acids. Once the amino acids end up in your muscles, your body starts putting them back together into your muscle tissue. Protein is even more important for growth and development in children. 

Why little Jimmy needs protein.

Babies and toddlers are growing rapidly, so they need more protein per pound of body weight than older kids and adults. Ten percent of a child’s energy comes from protein and that energy is vital to babies and toddlers ability to play and learn.  By not having enough protein in their diet it can stifle growth and development, decrease immunity, and weaken the heart and lungs. Additionally, babies and toddlers can only make 13 of the 22 amino acids and the others must come from protein rich foods such as breast milk, formula, meat, eggs, dairy products and beans.  

How protein affects behavior.

In a recent research study, a group of boys ages 6-12 with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD) appeared to have 50 percent lower levels of an amino acid called tryptophan, a protein which helps in the production of dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. This amino acid is also very important for attention and learning. Eating adequate protein and getting other nutrients that support optimal brain function is one of the best methods for improving attention span and decreasing hyperactivity in children. The amino acids in high-quality protein foods provide the building blocks for the chemical messengers that allow optimal cognitive function so your child will be motivated and energized.  

Ways to get more of it.

The amount of protein your child should consume differs based on their age. For infants, getting enough protein is very important because their weight doubles by 6 months of age. Breast milk or formula supplies all the protein a baby needs until 4 to 6 months; protein-rich solid foods should supplement breast milk beginning at 6 to 8 months. For children, a high protein breakfast consisting of animal proteins like eggs, meat, milk or yogurt first thing in the morning is a great way to kids going for the day. Some other foods that are good sources of protein include: beans, nuts and nut butters, tofu and other low-fat dairy products. 

While ensuring your child is getting enough protein is important, it should not be obsessed about. Offer them a variety of protein-rich foods and teach them about why protein is an important nutrient for their body. A well-balanced diet should provide all the protein they need. 


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