Protein Power

Protein - building blocks for growing bodies

Toddlers can seem quite strong already – especially when you’re trying to get them away from their toys and off to bed! To maximise their development it is important that they get one of the most important building blocks for development – protein.

Protein is essential for the growth of hair, nails and skin as well as for the repair and building of muscles. For preschoolers and toddlers it has an especially important function, growth.

To grow, children need protein. Without it they may experience slow growth, reversal of muscle tissue growth and anaemia. The human body can’t store protein, so it must be supplied on a daily basis from the foods we eat.

The recommended dietary intake (RDI) of protein is 14 g/day (1.08 g/kg) for 1-3 year olds and20 g/day (0.91 g/kg) for 4-8 year olds.

Meat, poultry and fish are best known for providing protein because they provide an easily absorbed, concentrated source. Toddlers can be picky eaters however, so meats are often rejected as they are tougher and harder to eat. Luckily there are other sources, such as dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk. Eggs, grains, legumes, pulses and various soy foods also pack a powerful protein punch!

Milk is a high protein food, and is popular with most toddlers. Around 500mls of milk provides half of the protein requirements for a 2 year-old child. Since yoghurt is made from milk, it provides a good source of protein. Milk and yogurt can be easily incorporated into your child’s diet as they are perfect products for breakfast and for snacks.

Snacks play a big part in supplying your child with their daily nutritional needs and most need three meals plus two to three snacks each day. Making sure the ones they eat are healthy is important, but it is not always easy – especially for busy families on the go! Also, when a child begins school or preschool, their parents or carers can feel they lose some control over what their child eats. Parents can reinforce messages of healthy eating by giving their child healthy options.

Here are some quick and easy suggestions you can try at home.

Healthy snack tips

• Encourage nutritious snacks from the five food groups, rather than junk foods like chips, lollies and ice-creams. The five food groups are;

o Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles

o Vegetables, legumes

o Fruit

o Milk, yoghurt, cheese

o Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes

• Many kid's diets are lacking in calcium. Calcium rich foods like yoghurt, milk and cheese are quick and easy nutritious snacks.

• Get children involved with their own snack preparation. When they choose healthy foods you should praise them.

• Use a cookie cutter to make shapes out of sandwiches or arrange fruit pieces and vegetable sticks on a plate to make “funny faces”, patterns, or animals.

• Cut food into bite sized easy to hold pieces. Many children are active and on-the-go so smaller snacks are ideal.

Nutritious snack ideas

• Dairy foods: Plain or fruit yoghurt, custard, plain or flavoured milk, smoothies made with fruit, cheese and cheese sticks, cottage cheese or low fat cream cheese. Dips can be made with yoghurt such as tzatziki (cucumber and yoghurt).

• Fresh fruit: Sultanas, apples, bananas and mandarins are easy to carry snack foods. Apple slices can be given with a small yoghurt pot for children to use as a dip. In summer, freeze fruit pieces in a bit of fruit juice for a substitute icy pole.

• Veggies: These may be a child’s sworn enemy but if you cut them up into strips and offer peanut butter or a dip as a side, they can be much more appealing!

• Wholegrain foods for the fibre it provides: Wholegrain bread, biscuits and crackers with a dairy spread such as cream cheese or avocado.

Feeding your toddler a variety of high-protein foods is important for their growth and development. Including sufficient protein in your child’s daily diet, including their snack times, will help ensure that they build strong foundations.