From infancy through adolescence, kids need protein to support rapid growth, development and immune health. Yet, research shows that many kids' protein needs go unmet. In fact, as many as one in seven school-aged children in the U.S. fall short of their recommended daily protein targets1.
Here's how to tell if your child is getting enough protein, how to easily add more to their diet, and why this nutrient is so essential for their physical growth and immune health.
What Is the Role of Protein in Child Development?
Found in every cell of the body, protein plays a critical role in child development. On a basic level, protein is crucial because it serves as the raw material for building tissues, such as muscles, skin and bones. Protein is a key component of antibodies that protects the body against illness and helps keep your child's immune system strong.
What Happens When Kids Miss Out on Protein?
Though we all require protein to stay healthy and strong, it's especially important to ensure that children are getting a enough . That's because childhood is a period of exponential growth. To support this rapid growth and development, kids require more protein per pound of body weight than during any other time in their lives.
If you're not sure what your child’s protein needs are, this quick guide from The National Academies of Sciences can help:
But, how can you tell if your child is getting the right amount of protein? When kids fall short of their protein recommendations, they may experience fatigue, poor concentration, delayed growth, bone and joint pain, or difficulty fighting infections. Several factors make it challenging for kids to consume enough protein, including a lack of appetite, feeding difficulties and even picky eating behaviors.
So, what's the best way to ensure your child doesn't fall short in getting this all-important nutrient? First things first, you'll want to look at their diet.
How To Promote Protein in Your Child's Diet
Luckily, protein is found in many foods. However, the most complete sources of protein are those considered high quality, which means that they provide all essential amino acids to the body. Examples of foods containing high quality protein are red meat, poultry, fish, milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, tofu and other soy products. These foods are rich in protein building blocks called amino acids, which support growth, a healthy immune system and many other critical body functions.
Offering protein-rich foods with every meal and snack can help ensure your child consumes a sufficient amount of protein. Ideally, your kids will get all the protein they need from a healthy, balanced diet. But, as any parent knows, children don't always eat what's in front of them.
How Supplements Can Help Kids Get Enough Protein
When children behind in growth aren’t getting enough nutrition, especially protein, from their diet alone, talk with your pediatrician who may recommend an oral nutrition shake such as PediaSure® to help support your child’s growth and deliver other key nutrients to help support their immune system.
PediaSure is a tasty nutrition shake that can easily be paired with your child's breakfast, lunch or dinner. It comes in six kid-friendly flavors and can be added to fun recipes like muffins, smoothies and pudding to boost their protein content. With 7 grams of protein per serving and 27 essential vitamins and minerals, PediaSure Grow & Gain can help you fill nutrition gaps in your child's diet.
If you're concerned that your child is behind in growth and isn’t consuming enough protein for optimal growth, consider reaching out to their pediatrician who can suggest options to add protein to your kid's diet or refer you to a registered dietitian for further guidance.
1 Data on File, December 2018. Abbott Nutrition. NHANES data analysis. 1 in 7 school-aged kids defined as 6-13 years. National Academies of Science's RDA for protein ranges from 13-34g daily in children.
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Decoding Your Child's Growth Chart
Pediatricians have several different tools they can use to measure your child's health. One of the most powerful among them is the growth chart. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make sense of all those lines and numbers — if you've felt this before, you're not alone. Here's some valuable insight into how to decode and better understand your child's chart. A Window Into Your Child's Health The growth chart might seem like just another piece of paper, but it's packed with several important insights. On the surface, it can look like these charts are simply about height and weight; however, growth is an indicator of many aspects of your child's health and well-being, such as cognitive development, immunity and nutrition status. One Size Doesn't Fit All The growth chart uses a set of measurements, called percentiles, to compare your child's weight, height and head size (in the case of infants) to those of other children of the same age and sex. The higher the percentile, the larger a child is compared to their peers. Conversely, the lower the percentile, the smaller the child. For example, if your child is in the 75th percentile for height, that means they are taller than 75% of kids their age. Kids of average height for their age based on WHO Child growth standards would measure in the 50th percentile. It's natural to assume bigger is better, but that's not necessarily the case. Many factors influence a child's size, including genetics, diet, and even their environment. Instead of focusing on a specific goal, pediatricians are far more interested in each child's individual growth trend. For instance, a child who has consistently been in the 30th percentile for height or weight might be experiencing perfectly healthy growth; however, if that number were to suddenly drop to the 15th percentile or below, further investigation might make sense. Adding Up the Numbers Because children experience different rates of growth according to their age, there are two basic types of growth charts. The first is designed for newborns and babies up to age 2, while the other is for kids and young adults between the ages of 2 and 20. At every wellness visit, your pediatrician will measure your child's height and weight to keep close tabs on their growth trend. Then, they'll plot these figures on the chart. You don't have to wait until your child's next appointment to learn the results. You can download the same charts they use and plot the results yourself.
Dedication & Resilience: 2020 is The Year of the Parent
2020 is the year of the working parent. In many ways, the impact of COVID-19 forced parents into a new reality. Juggling children, working from home, trying to find childcare and ensuring e-learning has challenged families like never before. And while a global pandemic has pushed working parents' challenges to new heights, something else has bubbled up. Support. Parents are supporting each other. Communities are supporting parents. Businesses are supporting parents. Companies have had to lean into flexibility in order to support parents more than ever before. National Working Parent’s Day This year, Abbott, makers of Similac, support working parents on this day because we know that the demands on them have been extraordinary, and still they’ve persevered and triumphed under very challenging environmental factors and nearly impossible everyday circumstances. Similac created the Promises Project to develop supportive communities that share positivity and help parents stay connected, which is more important than ever. The program communicates common struggles parents take on daily – whether juggling childcare, working from home and homeschooling, or simply feeling judged for decisions we make as parents – the Promises Project reminds all parents to encourage and lift each other up.