How Protein Fuels Child Development

How Protein Fuels Development

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Protein is critical for children's growth and development. Is your child getting enough of it?

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JUN. 04, 2020   3 MIN. READ

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 targets.1

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:

  •  1- to 3-year-olds should get at least 13 grams a day.
  • 4- to 8-year-olds should get at least 19 grams a day.
  •  9- to 13-year-olds should get at least 34 grams a day.

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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