Written by Registered Dietitian Nishti
Over the last week, we have had this question brought to our attention in our paediatric clinic. Parents tend to worry if their toddler refuses to eat chicken, meat, or fish as they feel their protein intake is compromised.
It is only natural to feel worried since we have been told that protein is essential for a growing toddler (and it is). However, protein is an abundant macronutrient, and its not that difficult to obtain enough protein in the diet.
Amelia refuses to eat meat and fish!
Take for instance one of our clients at the moment, Amelia, aged two and a half. She has a cow’s milk protein allergy diagnosis and has still not outgrown her allergy yet. She follows a dairy free diet and tends to prefer carbohydrates such as bread and cereal, vegetables, and fruit. She loves peanut butter and red kidney beans. She occasionally has chicken but refuses to eat any meat and fish. The family is not vegetarian or vegan.
Amelia knows best! Right?
Children are at heart intuitive eaters or in other words, they are born mindful eaters!
They eat when they want, they eat what they want and how much they want. We as parents have very little control over this. In fact, the only thing we can control is what we decide to put in front of them! For many parents, this is very difficult to accept and in our desperate attempt to control their diet and eating, our children react to our anxious control with opposition, leaving us feeling powerless.
We find that parents tend to overestimate how much protein their toddler needs. The table below and this video on Youtube will show you just how easy it is for toddlers to meet their daily protein requirements.
Given that a large proportion of our clients have an allergy to dairy we have made this list of foods vegan-friendly.
Protein recommendations for children are shown below:
|Age group||Protein requirements (grams per day)|
What is a portion?
A portion is equivalent to the size of the palm of our hand (for children use their palm as a guide). We do not need to weigh or measure foods out but what we need to consider is to serve beans, pulses, fish, egg, meat, and other proteins such as tofu with 2-3 meals daily. For vegetarian or vegan diets, please consider 3 portions of protein foods daily. Ideally also serve something high in vitamin C alongside as this will enhance the absorption of iron. For example, serve bell peppers with a chicken dinner or serve fruit alongside a tofu wrap at lunchtime. A kind reminder that we can serve the ideal balanced plate but our children will eat what they want. Don’t worry if you can’t reach those portion amounts with one food only, because mixing different plant sources is even more effective in optimizing protein in children and adults that dislike meat.
Protein content of foods (vegetarian and vegan friendly).
This table shows you the portion content of various standard toddler portions. Note how much protein non-meat sources contain.
|Food||Child’s Portion||Protein content (g)|
|50/50 bread||1 slice||4|
|Tortilla wrap||1/2 wrap||2.3|
|Ready Brek||small bowl||8.3|
|Rice krispies||small bowl||2|
|Pasta & Grains (cooked)|
|Beans & Pulses (Cooked)|
|Red kidney beans||2-3 tbsp||7.5|
|Green lentils||2-3 tbsp||5|
|Nuts and Seeds|
|Peanut butter||1 tbsp||4|
|Almond butter||1 tbsp||3|
|Ground flaxseeds||1 tsp||0.5|
|Chia seeds||1 tsp||1|
|Bread stick||Mini bag||2|
|Lentil cake||1 cake||1.2|
|Oaty bites||One small pack||6|
|Flapjack bars||1 bag||1.5|
Protein is an abundant macronutrient found in so many different foods, including bread. Variety is important, therefore try and mix it up as much as your child permits.
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McCance & Widdowsons Composition of Foods, Seventh Edition.
Messina, V. and Mangels, A. R. (2001) ‘Considerations in Planning Vegan Diets: Children’, Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Elsevier, 101(6), pp. 661–669.