How Much Protein Does My Child Need?

Protein is an essential nutrient we all need in our diets that:

  • Helps boost energy levels
  • Builds strong muscles
  • Helps kids' bodies growing
  • Aids in repairing injuries

Protein can be found in many different types of food, so meeting the daily recommendation for protein can be relatively easy. Only 10% to 20% of the calories we eat in a day need to come from protein.

Protein requirements will be different based on a child’s age, gender and weight. Do you know if your child is getting enough protein?

Knowing the recommended amount of protein your child needs each day is good information, but that doesn’t mean anyone should ever force a child to eat. A child’s growth and development happen over a course of several meals and days.

Take a look at the recommended grams of protein needed each day to help guide you in what foods to offer:

  • Children ages 1 to 3: 13 grams
  • Children ages 4 to 8: 19 grams
  • Children ages 9 to 13: 34 grams
  • Girls ages 14 to 18: 46 grams
  • Boys ages 14 to 18: 52 grams

Protein comes in many different shapes and sizes. In fact, Strong4Life registered dietitian Katherine Shary notes, “It is possible for a child to get enough protein without eating any animal products.”

High-protein foods and drinks:

  • 1 cup of cow milk or soy milk has 8 grams of protein
  • A 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein
  • 1/2 cup of cooked black beans has about 8 grams of protein
  • 1 individual container (5-6 ounces) of Greek yogurt has 12-14 grams of protein (regular yogurt has about 6 grams)
  • 1/2 cup of tofu has 10 grams of protein

More good sources of protein:

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Lean meats, fish and poultry
  • Lentils and other legumes
  • Grains, including bread and pasta
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Protein-fortified foods, like cereals

Give one of these ideas a try:

  • Eggcellent Eggs. Eggs are a great source of protein, from scrambled to hard-boiled. Try scrambled eggs between 2 whole-grain waffles, sliced boiled eggs in a pita with veggies, or make an egg salad sandwich using a combination of half yogurt and half mayonnaise. You can always use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes, too.
  • Protein-packed waffles. Skip the syrup and smear a light layer of nut or seed butter on top of waffles, adding warm blueberries for a sweet taste. Try making waffle batter with whole-wheat flour, ground flaxseed or chia seed to give them even more protein.
  • Parfaits. Make them fun by using a clear cup. Spoon in a layer of Greek yogurt (which has 2 times the protein of regular yogurt), a layer of fresh fruit, a layer of crunch from cereal or granola, and repeat.
  • Dip, dip hooray. Dipping food is a great way to kick up the fun factor. Try these dips for a boost of protein: hummus with pita or veggies, yogurt with fruit or pretzels, and bean and salsa (add a can of drained and rinsed black beans to your favorite salsa) with baked tortilla chips.
  • Nacho bites. Spoon your meat of choice (or beans) into scoop-shaped tortilla chips. Add a sprinkle of cheese before baking or microwaving. Finish with salsa and Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt makes a great substitute for sour cream).