I recently asked my Yummy Toddler Food Facebook group what their biggest concerns were when feeding their toddlers and a frequent comment surprised me—and it was about protein. Based on how much us adults are preoccupied by our own protein intake, this shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, but I have some good news: Your toddler probably gets plenty of protein without you even having to worry about it at all.
It's of course important for toddlers to eat enough protein to ensure that they have the fuel that they need to grow properly, but the average toddler only needs 2 servings of protein per day. That's about the equivalent of:
1 egg and 1/2-1 cup of milk
1/4 cup of Greek yogurt and 1 tablespoon nut butter
1-2 ounces chicken and 1/4 cup peas or beans
1/2-1 string cheese and 1/2-1 cup milk
1/4-1/2 cup cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons-1/4 cup beans
1/4 cup beans and 1/4 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1/2 slice whole grain bread, 1/2 cup milIk
See? I am almost positive that the majority of our little ones are eating plenty by the time that they get to lunch. Which is to say that you really can cross this concern off of your list!
Now, all of that said, I do recommend including a protein-rich food in most meals and snacks to help your child have balanced energy—since a protein with a fruit or veggie will combine to create longer lasting energy that they won't burn through so quickly. But it's as simple as a bit of cheese, milk, meat, nut butter, beans, and the like and you absolutely don't need to push more protein if you keep these base requirements in mind. If your family doesn't eat dairy or your child is lactose intolerant, then you may need to seek out some good protein-rich alternatives. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Flax milk
- Hemp or chia seeds, sprinkled over yogurt, oatmeal, or in overnight oats
- Nut butter, spread thinly onto bread or crackers or stirred into oatmeal
- Tofu (like this baked version)
- Fish, lean meat, and poultry
- Beans, either whole, in hummus, or in soups
- Some pastas (like quinoa pasta, or the black bean pasta from Trader Joes, or this lentil pasta)
It's also worth noting that us parents probably don't need to overdo it on protein either, except of course if you're pregnant or nursing—then you should make sure that you're getting those recommended 70-100 grams each day to ensure that you and baby are getting adequate nutrients.
I hope this gives you one less thing to worry about when it comes to feeding your little one!