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Protein-Rich Foods for Children

By Andrea Boldt

Protein is an important component of every person’s diet, regardless of age. For growing children, protein supports muscle growth, organ development and hormone and enzyme production. Even if your child is not a fan of steak, many other protein-rich foods appeal to children's tastes.


The amount of protein a child needs daily depends on his age and size. Most 1- to 3-year-olds need about 16 g per day, 4- to 6-year-olds need about 24 g, and 7- to 10-year-olds need 28 g. Another way to figure out your child’s protein needs is by weight. Dr. William Sears, of, notes that children 1- to 6-years-old need 0.6 g of protein per pound of weight and 7- to 15-year-olds need 0.5 g per pound of weight.

Types of Protein

Proteins are made up of 22 amino acids, eight of which you must obtain from your diet. Complete proteins are those that contain all eight of these amino acids in adequate ratios. Animal proteins, such as eggs, meat, poultry, fish and dairy, are complete proteins. Vegetable proteins often lack one or more of the essential amino acids; however, soy, hemp seeds and quinoa are complete plant-based proteins. Beans and legumes, as well as nuts and seeds are other vegetarian sources of protein that also benefit a child’s diet.

Protein Amounts in Common Foods

A half cup of chopped chicken breast provides 21 g of protein. A 3-oz. serving of lean ground beef or of tuna canned in water also provides 21 g of protein. A full cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains 28 g of protein. One egg provides 6 g of protein and a cup of milk has 8 g of protein.

Meal and Snack Ideas

To ensure your children get enough protein, make protein foods appealing to their tastes. Layer yogurt with your children’s favorite cereal for a protein-rich parfait. Scramble eggs with cheese to create a child-friendly meal with 16 g of protein. Wrap chopped chicken in a tortilla with shredded cheese and avocado. Make mini meatballs with ground turkey, chicken or beef and add to pasta or soup. Two tablespoons of peanut butter with fruit, whole wheat crackers and a cup of low-fat milk provides 16 g of protein. Some children may enjoy cubes of firm tofu tossed with soy and garlic, baked until lightly browned, which provides 10 g of protein per 3.5 oz.

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