Helping children get enough protein
Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post on healthy eating. Sometimes they will take questions from readers. This week, Faith Hicks, answers a mom's protein question.
Note: Comments made here are for informational purposes only and do not represent or substitute as medical advice. Patients are advised to consult their own physician or pharmacist for advice, diagnosis and treatment.
One of our readers recently asked for advice regarding her 4-year-old who eats very little meat or poultry, but does like eggs, yogurt and cheese. She is concerned about the adequacy of his diet, particularly his protein intake.
When a parent feels as if it is difficult to get a child to eat certain foods, I always start the discussion about mealtimes in general. I encourage that the family eat as many meals together as possible. Children mimic their parents' eating habits, so having healthy, balanced meals together models good eating habits. Being overly persuasive about eating a particular food or foods can backfire, so avoid pressuring a child to eat any one. Rather, serve the food in a pleasant manner and ask that the child try just a bit of each item on his plate. It often takes repeated samples of a food before a child accepts it. Avoid snacking before meals so that the child is hungry when he sits down to eat. When the child is hungry, the food sure tastes great!
Parents often are concerned that their child's protein intake may be inadequate with a diet low in meat-containing foods. But children can consume more than adequate amounts of protein from milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs, plus smaller amounts of protein in many vegetables and grains. Diets low in meats may be a bit low in iron and zinc, but legumes, nuts and beans contain both zinc and iron. Some cereals are fortified with a fair amount of iron. Iron absorption can be enhanced by having a high vitamin C juice or food along with a high iron food.
The Dietary Reference Intake for a healthy, average size 4-year-old boy is about 15 grams of protein per day. Here is how a balanced diet could meet his needs.
1/2 cup Cheerios: 1 g
1/2 cup low-fat milk: 4 g
4 oz orange juice
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: 9 g
8 oz low fat milk: 8 g
1 cup macaroni and cheese: 8 g
1/2 cup peas: 2 g
Apple cobbler: 1 g
8 oz low fat milk: 8 g
6 oz yogurt: 6 g
4 baby carrots
Total: 47 g protein
As you can see, this totals over 40 grams of protein, more than double what a typical 4 year old needs.