Have you got an accidental vegetarian at home? Worried about their protein intake?
In this post, we’ll cover the best protein for children who refuse meat. I’ve got some great suggestions for you on a variety of protein rich foods for kids. It ranges from foods like oats to soy and peanut butter.
Keep reading to find out the exact quantity of high protein foods your child needs, especially if he/she is also following a vegetarian diet.
Why is the best protein important for children who refuse meat?
It’s true what they say, protein is important for children. It helps promote the normal growth of muscles and tissue repair. Breathing, walking, running. Activities that kids cannot do without strong and fast bodies supported by high quality protein.
Children also need protein to make all of their necessary hormones and enzymes. Did you know that protein has a role in immunity?
My child refuses meat, what now?
First thing, let’s understand the science behind protein.
Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are twenty different amino acids. Your body can make most of these amino acids except for nine in the list. These essential amino acids need to be eaten from food because our bodies cannot make them.
The nine essential amino acids are:
Protein can be found in both animal and plant foods, however the amino acid composition in both differs hugely.
If you’ve got a picky eater at home, then it’s a good idea to focus on the protein foods that provide these essential amino acids. This is especially important for children who refuse meat and other animal products.
You see, animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids whilst very few plant proteins do. They are also an important source of iron.
If you’ve got a picky eater who refuses meat, then let’s get an understanding of how much protein they need before considering the best protein rich foods for kids.
What are the protein requirements for children?
Your child’s body will have varying requirements for protein depending on how old they are. Please note that this is not an absolute list of protein requirements. Protein requirements do vary with your child’s weight and age. For example, a toddler weighing more will need more protein to maintain and support additional muscle growth.
For specialist protein calculations, do speak to a paediatric dietitian like myself.
Although meat is considered to be a high quality protein providing all nine essential amino acids, if your child has access to good variety of proteins in their diet, they will meet requirements.
Best protein for children who refuse meat
Go on tell me, how many of you scrolled right down just to find this list of protein rich foods for kids?
Apart from the usual eggs, milk, yoghurt and cheese which are based on animal proteins, the collection of plant proteins put together make the best protein for children who refuse meat.
The following foods are excellent protein foods for kids.
For children who refuse to eat meat and other animal sources of protein, the trick is to include at least one of these protein rich foods with every meal and snack.
The best protein for children who refuse meat are anything based on soy and grains such as amaranth and quinoa. Tofu and edamame beans are also unique in that they contain all nine essential amino acids. These protein foods are the obvious choices for meat haters.
Now here’s a good tip. Stock up your fridge with fortified soy drinks as the cow’s milk alternative if your child is no longer interested in cow’s milk.
What about the other plant protein foods for children?
Lentils, beans and chickpeas are excellent protein foods for kids. They provide good amounts of protein per 100g of food. Better still, they are also packed with iron, a mineral that picky eaters can sometimes dip low in.
What are the best protein snacks for children on a plant-based diet?
If your child is refusing meat, the best protein for kids isn’t down to one food. The best way to achieve your child’s protein requirements is through variety.
Why? It’s down to the amino acid composition of protein foods.
Some protein foods tend to be high in one type of amino acid, whilst being low in others.
Grains for example tend to be low in the essential amino acid lysine. Legumes on the other hand are rich in lysine highlighting the importance of variety in children’s diet.
In fact, after soy or quinoa, legumes, nuts and seeds are generally the best protein for kids who refuse meat.
When preparing snacks for children make sure that you are using these high protein foods.
As you can see from the table below, even oats and wholemeal bread provide protein. Combine with nut butters or bake using high quality proteins like quinoa and you are onto a winning recipe.
For more ideas see:
Tryptophan and sleep
Did you know that oats, nuts and seeds contain the essential amino acid tryptophan?
Your chid’s body cannot produce tryptophan so it must be obtained from food.
Read more here:
You can also tune into the podcast interview and conversation “How to get great sleep”, that I had with Dr Chiara Hunt and Marina Fogle over at the Parenthood Podcast.
Is protein powder safe for children?
Protein powders are beneficial for children following restricted diets as a result of a medical condition. Alternatively, for vegetarian children participating in competitive sports.
A paediatric dietitian with extensive experience can recommend appropriate products.
If you are living with a fussy eater, it can have a profound effect. It’s emotionally draining therefore tempting to start using protein powders.
But the more important process would be to tackle the fussy eating.
If you do decide to try protein powders, a word of caution. The source of the protein is important. You now know that not all proteins are the same so there’s no point relying on pea protein powders for breakfast, lunch and dinner (for example). This will also only be a temporary “fix” rather than the solution.
Why not join the End Mealtime Battles?
Need more help and support?
Book a free initial consultation and we can discuss how we can work together via my specialist programmes.
Let Me Help
Would you like to meet a children’s dietitian with over 12 years of experience at Great Ormond Street? I have successfully helped families solve their nutrition problems from around the world.
Whether you are worried about picky eating, food allergy or need to help your child build a healthy relationship with food, I’ll help you manage these with confidence.
For bookings and enquiries email me on email@example.com or book a free 15 minute call to discuss how I can help you at my Harley Street clinic.