Protein is an important macro-nutrient essential for building and maintaining a functioning body with healthy muscles, organs, and immune system.

Do you worry that your new eater, toddler, tween, or teen isn’t getting enough protein in their diet? You’re not alone! Besides for vegetables, it seems protein consumption is the biggest question I get about children’s diet. Before you start adding in protein powder to boost their intake, let’s see how much your child actually needs, and how much he’s already eating!

Protein-rich food

Protein is found in animal sources, such as meat, chicken, fish, milk products and eggs. It’s also in plant sources, including beans & pulses (lentils and peas, soy-milk), nuts & nut butters, seeds and whole grains

Servings per age:

Protein needs, like most nutrients, varies depending on your child’s age

  • 7-12 months: 11 g/day
  • 1-3 years: 13 g/day
  • 4-8 years: 19 g/day
  • 9-13 years: 34 g/day
  • 14-18 years: boys- 52 g/day girls- 46 g/day

What does this look like? A lot less than you might think! One mom of a 5 year old told me of nightly battles for her son to eat a full piece of chicken, believing it was his only protein source. Another mom describes how she serves the meal in stages- first the protein, then the vegetables, and lastly the starch, to ensure her family eats enough protein. Take a look at these pictures and you’ll notice a lot more food has protein than you may think. And some of them have a LOT of protein.

*NOTE: These pictures are representative of only the protein needs of varying ages. They don’t show complete day’s worth of all foods (for example, more vegetables & fruit are needed to meet your child’s vitamin, mineral, and fibre needs). These are also only representative of protein variety, and all ages can and should be eating many different protein options each day.

Protein servings for 7 months- 18 years

1/2 oz baked chicken | 2 Tbsp canned beans | 1/4 cup hot cereal | 1 Tbsp tahini | 1/4 fried egg
1/4 cup yogurt | 2 tsp hemp | 2 chicken nuggets | 1/2 slice bread | 1/2 Tbsp peanut butter
1/2 cup cereal +1/4 cup milk|2 mini meatballs |1/4 cup spaghetti |1/2 tortilla + cheese | 1 Tbsp hummus
1/2 cup rice | 1 cup tofu stir-fry | 2 waffles | 1 cracker | 1/4 cup tuna salad
1/4 cup mixed nuts | 2 cups popcorn | 1/4 cup cottage cheese + banana | 1/2 salmon fillet+ wrap | 1/2 cup overnight oats prepared with 1/4 cup yogurt & 1/4 cup milk

If you’re serving a varied diet, your child is likely meeting his protein requirements. Are you surprised by the variety of foods with protein, the amount of protein in food, or the levels for each age group? I’d love to hear!