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Help! My toddler isn’t eating any protein foods!

Help! My toddler isn’t eating any protein foods!

This has been the theme of the last few feeding consultations I've had with parents of toddlers. So it's REALLY common to have this concern.

We are flooded with information about making sure our children get the 'right' balance of nutrients and foods at every meal, and so when we start to notice a food group missing, then the panic might start to set in.

The foods we immediately think of when we think 'protein' tend to be meat, fish and eggs. And these foods can often be tricky to serve to young children. The textures can be difficult - hard to chew, stringy, slimy. The taste on their own might not be that appealing - often very strong tastes, with an accompanying odour.

Diet culture and the wellness warriors will also tell us that processed versions of these foods are damaging to health, and should be avoided in small children like the plague - a processed chicken nugget, for a toddler?! The audacity!

It's a tricky food group alright.

Some things to think about that I've been sharing with families.

1 - Protein isn't just meat

This isn't about thinking of vegetarian or vegan alternatives to meat - sometimes they aren't great sources of protein anyway - but instead looking beyond these groups completely. Milk and wheat are BIG sources of protein in our diets. Are they the 'best'? No, in the sense that they may not contain all the amino acids we need, but they are a great starting point and your body can do a lot from there.

If your toddler is having 300ml cows milk across the day they are getting almost 10g protein. 2 petit filous type yoghurts is 5g protein. A cheese string is 4.6g protein or a baby bel is 4.4g protein.

Wheat is a protein found in many grains and the products made from them - think cereal, bread, pasta, bagels, croissants - and this is one staple that most toddler will eat some form of. A slice of bread contains 3-4g protein, a croissant confirms around 5g protein, a portion of cooked pasta contains around 4-5g protein.

And then there's eggs, beans, nut butters, hummus, crushed nuts - things that can be mushed and dipped and spread onto other foods. They all count and even small amounts really add up.

2 - Kids need less protein than you think

With all of the parents I spoke to recently who were worried about protein, every single one of their toddlers was MORE than meeting their protein needs from the foods and drinks they had. Like 150% of their needs.

I don't generally do a super detailed food diary analysis for toddler feeding consultations, typically it's not needed, and having that level of information can do more harm than good, but looking at the nutrient of concern, eg protein, and doing a rough calculation of how much is coming in can be a good way to alleviate concerns.

A toddler aged 1-3 need approximately 14.5g protein a day. And the most recent dietary surveys in the U.K. suggest that most toddlers get 2-3 times this amount.

Have a look at the amounts of protein in those foods above. Are they having 2 beakers of milk and a couple of yoghurts?

Yes?Then you're good.

Add in a slice of bread and you're golden.

And that's before even the slightest hint of a piece of meat or fish.

3 - Look at a week not a day

Toddlers eat according to appetite, and that appetite varies according to their sleep, mood, growth, wellness and the way the wind blows that day. So a 'bad' day isn't the end of the world. The next 3 days might be 'super' days and it all evens out.

Our body is not so fickle and delicate as to need the exact 'right' amount of each nutrient every single day from the food we eat - if it did, we'd just never survive!

Take a biiiiig step back and have a look at a week, or even longer. You'll find that patterns start to emerge and that some days are full of protein, whereas others are virtually devoid of it. It's not a problem, it's just normal toddler eating. And once we know that, we can breathe a sigh of relief that our toddler is just like everyone else's and we are doing a bloody good job.

Check out my blog on toddler fussy eating here



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