Getting your toddler enough protein

It’s understandable if you’re concerned about whether or not your toddler is getting their nutritional needs met. But the good news is that as long as you’re following the basic guidelines about how to feed your toddler, the two of you are probably doing just fine.

How much protein do toddlers need?

If you are serving them balanced and nutritious meals, and your child is growing and developing well, you should not worry about exact numbers. You can always check with your pediatrician or family doctor if you have specific questions about your child’s growth and daily needs.

For children between the ages of two and eight, one serving of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, yogurt, or cheese should give them the protein and iron needs to grow. So if they have several bites of these foods during two separate meals, it is likely that they will meet their daily needs.

What are some protein-rich foods?

Toddlers can get protein in all different kinds of ways, and for the most part, their diets can look similar to your own. Some good protein-rich foods to feed your toddler include the following.

  • Seafood: Look for small fish that contain less mercury. Tuna is the most common fish for mercury exposure in the U.S., so try to limit the amount of canned tuna your child eats, and choose light canned tuna if you do opt for this fish. Good low-mercury options include haddock, hake, trout, catfish, shrimp, and salmon. If you have a family history of seafood or shellfish allergy, and if your child has eczema, asthma or other food allergies, consult your doctor before introducing these to your child’s diet. Be aware of the potential for an allergic reaction, and look for any signs (vomiting, rash, difficulty breathing, etc) when you first introduce seafood.
  • Lean meats and poultry: Grass-fed, organic, and hormone-free meats in particular are the best choices for your toddler, if possible. Try to cook meat and poultry by broiling, grilling, or roasting, as these methods help reduce fat content.
  • Eggs: A toddler who likes eggs makes for a parent with a lot of options as far as protein goes. They can be prepared in lots of different ways and combined with a lot of different foods. This is another food that is allergenic (allergy-inducing), so make sure to be aware of the signs of an allergic reaction when you first introduce eggs to your toddler, and if you have an egg allergy in your family, talk to your child’s provider before letting them try eggs.
  • Beans: Black beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils are all good options for healthy protein. Make sure to serve them to your toddler very well cooked, to prevent a choking hazard.
  • Yogurt, cheese and other milk-products: These are rich in calcium and protein, and can be added to vegetables or eaten as healthy snacks.
  • Nuts: Almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, among many other types of nuts are packed with healthy fats and protein for your child’s brain development. You can crush them and serve them as toppings, blend them to make your own homemade nut butters, or give them to your loved ones as healthy snacks.

Variety is the spice of life

This saying couldn’t be more true when it comes to toddlers and their eating habits. Unless your child’s healthcare provider has said it’s needed, you don’t need to give your toddler any extra supplements or vitamins. The most important thing right now is for you to keep introducing them to different types of healthy proteins, as well as fruits, vegetables, and sources of whole grains. This helps your toddler’s taste palate grow and develop while they can continue to get all the nutrition they need to grow healthy and strong.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Nutrition for kids: Guidelines for a healthy diet.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jan 16 2016. Web.
  • Editorial Staff. “Nutrition Tips for Kids.” FamilyDoctor. American Academy of Family Physicians, Sep 2000. Web.
  • “Make Safe, Healthy Meat Choices for Your Kids!” HealthyChild. Environmental Working Group or Healthy Child, Healthy World, Feb 22 2013. Web.
  • “What Should I Eat? Protein” The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2016. Web.
  • Kyla Boyse. “Choking Prevention.” Regents of the University of Michigan, 2016. Web.
  • “Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate.” The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2016. Web.
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