Do toddlers need protein? Find out in this week’s “Ask Amanda,” column. Ask Amanda is our weekly virtual Q and A forum brought to you by Feed to Succeed’s expert Northshore dietitian Amanda Gordon.
Q: My daughter is 20 months old, and she is generally a good eater, not too picky. She likes fruit, sometimes she is willing to eat vegetables, she drinks milk and eats cheese and yogurt, and she loves bread, bagels and crackers. Unfortunately, she doesn’t like meat and rarely eats it when I put it on her plate. Should I worry that she is not getting enough protein?
A: Good question! Many toddlers, even those who are not picky eaters, don’t like to eat meat.
Meat can be difficult to chew, and it can have a texture that is hard for some toddlers to accept. I would continue to offer her the meats that you buy and eat in your house (as long as it is prepared in a way that is not a choking hazard), but I wouldn’t force the issue. Also, try not to routinely resort to chicken nuggets or other “kid friendly” meats that you feel she is more likely to eat.
I review lots of toddler diets with parents, and 99 percent of the time the amount of protein in the toddlers’ diets meets and often exceeds how much they need–even with children who are picky eaters or have a very limited diet.
Toddlers between 1 and 2 years old need about 1 ½ -2 ounces of meat or meat alternative each day if they are drinking some milk and eating cheese or yogurt in addition to this. This is less than most parents think. Protein doesn’t have to come from meat, and there are many great meat alternatives for kids. One tablespoon of peanut butter other nut butter, one egg, or ¼ cup of cooked beans or lentils counts the same as one ounce of meat.