Thursday, July 9, 2009

How much protein should my child be getting daily?

Monique, How many grams of protein should my 3.5 year old be getting daily? Thank you in advance. Melanie

Answer: Babies need the highest amount of fat and protein as a percentage of total calories during the first 3 years of life, because of their rapid growth and development. After age three, there is a slow down in growth, but preschoolers still need more protein in their diets than older children.

To determine your child's exact protein needs during this time of life, use these figures. Multiply your child's weight in pounds by the number of grams of protein needed per pound of body weight to calculate their daily protein requirements.

Ages 1 to 3 - 0.81 grams (child's weight in pounds x 0.81 = daily grams of protein)
Ages 4 to 6 - 0.68 grams
Ages 7 to 10 - 0.55 grams

Since young children have small stomachs, it is important that the calories they consume be packed with vitamins, minerals and protein. Vegetarian parents should note that eating a high amount of fiber may fill preschoolers up, but they may not be taking in enough total calories each day. While it is important to give young children a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, these foods are also high in fiber.

During the preschool years, vegetarian and vegan children need foods that provide a high amount of nutrient dense calories in a small amount. This can be achieved by including in their diets foods such as seeds, nuts and nut butters, avocados, dried fruits, beans and soy products like tofu, tempeh, soymilk, soynuts, and TVP. (Since nuts and nut butters are common allergens, give your child a little at first and watch for any negative reactions. Also, because whole nuts can be a choking hazard, only give them to children over 3 years of age and make sure they chew it properly).

The protein needs of preschool children can be easily meet by giving them several small snacks and meals throughout the day from a variety of plant foods. According to the National Academy of Sciences, total caloric intake and the RDA of protein for young children is as follows...

Ages 1 to 3 - 1300 calories and 16 grams protein
Ages 4 to 6 - 1800 calories and 24 grams protein
Ages 7 to 10 - 2000 calories and 28 grams protein

Remember that at this young age, food preferences change often. Always offer a variety of food choices because what they hate today may become their favorite food tomorrow. Never force a child to eat a food they do not want, or offer a food they do like as a reward. This will give them the wrong message about food. Food should be nourishing and enjoyable.

This is a very important time in a young child's life for developing healthy lifelong eating habits that will be the foundation for their diet and health as they grow up. Be a good example of healthy eating. The habits you show your child will be picked up quicker that just telling them to eat good (action speaks louder than words). Finally, be creative in your food presentation, and if they get fussy, puree foods into soups or smoothies.

For more information, read "Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start" at

and the books . . .

Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (8th edition) 

Plant Based Nutrition and Health 

The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet

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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.


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