In my practice, I usually see kids avoiding two of the five food groups: vegetables and protein. While children will get some protein from other food groups, studies show that protein is usually the main nutrient lacking from their lunch boxes. A low-protein lunch can ultimately impact a child’s ability to concentrate as well as their energy levels.
The good news is that most kids will be able to receive their daily quota and easily exceed their recommended protein requirements as long as they are eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of healthy protein choices.
Eating protein-rich meals will:
- Help kids stay fuller for longer
- Makes kids less likely to snack between meals
- Keeps kids on their toes, mentally and physically
- Boosts the immune system
What are the best sources of protein for toddlers?
Animal sources tend to deliver all the amino-acids a child’s body needs:
- red meat
- dairy products
Two plant sources make the cut too: soy protein (such as soybean, tofu, tempeh & soy milk) and quinoa – the only legume and wholegrain considered a complete protein.
Other pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains can also help your child get an adequate amount of protein each day.
How much should my toddler be eating?
Protein requirements differ at different ages based on the body’s need for growth and repair. Babies and young children require more protein than adults per kg of body weight. This often equates to children eating 1-2 serves of good-quality protein on a daily basis.
Children ages 1-3 years: 1.1g/kg of body weight / 13g daily
Children aged 4.8 years: .95g/kg of body weight / 19g daily
Be careful not to restrict your child
It’s important to not make your child feel restricted. Restricting a child’s natural appetite, especially in the early stages of development can limit them from receiving the nutrition and energy that their body is telling them that they need.
If they’re still hungry after a healthy snack, bring one of their main meals forward rather than allowing them to continue to snack. An early lunch or dinner may be just what they need.
If you’re worried about your child’s eating patterns, consult your GP or paediatrician. While these are tactics I give to my clients to manage frequent snacking, there could be underlying medical issues that need professional help.