If a child is growing slowly or is small for their age, nutritious meals are often a good place to start, but they might not be enough. Some children simply don't have the appetite or have eating habits that prevent them from getting all the nutrition they need at mealtimes. Healthy snacks for kids can help provide nutrients that support optimal growth, especially when it comes to protein.
Jennifer Williams, MPH, pediatric nutrition researcher with Abbott, explains that protein supplies the raw materials growing bodies need to build cells, tissues, muscles and bones. Sufficient daily protein intake also plays an important role in the metabolism of other nutrients, the formation of red blood cells and strengthening of the immune system.
Does Your Child Have a Protein Gap?
Although protein is essential for kids' growth and development, research shows that one in seven school-aged children do not meet their daily protein intake goals1 and the older children get, the less likely they are to meet their targets because their protein needs increase," explains Williams. While children one to three years old require at minimum 13 grams of protein a day, their daily target jumps to 20 grams between the ages of four and eight. Between the ages of nine and 13, those needs nearly double to a minimum of 34 grams daily.
If you're concerned about your child's growth, be sure to speak to your pediatrician for additional guidance or if you need general nutrition tips, consult the Feeding Expert line from Abbott.
So, how do snacks fit into the picture? According to recent National Health And Nutrition Examination survey data, snacks today can make up about 30 percent of U.S. children's daily calories, and many of those snacks are often from low-nutrient snacks, desserts and candy.2 But with a little planning you can make sure your child is reaching for smart, nutritious snacks.
A snack should be nutritious and substantial enough to keep your child full between meals, but not so large or high in calories that it interferes with mealtime appetite — ideally between 100 and 200 calories with 5 to 10 grams of protein.
For healthy inspiration, try these tasty, protein-packed snacks for kids.
1. Microwave Quesadillas
For a kid-pleasing protein-packed snack, mash 2 tablespoons of black beans and spread on half of a 6-inch flour tortilla. Top with 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, fold tortilla in half to make a half-circle, and microwave for 30 to 45 seconds or until cheese melts.
6 grams protein, 140 calories
2. Turkey-Cheese Pinwheels
Deli meat like sliced turkey breast offers a simple but tasty snack option with quality protein. For an extra protein boost, serve it with a slice of cheese in a turkey pinwheel. Simply top a slice of deli turkey with your child's favorite cheese, roll and slice into bite-sized pinwheels.
8 grams protein, 95 calories
3. A Protein-Rich Drink
A protein drink is a simple — and delicious — way to boost your child's daily protein intake – especially on-the-go or in a lunch box. Just one eight-fluid ounce bottle of PediaSure™SideKicks® delivers 10 grams of high-quality protein plus 25 growth-supporting vitamins and minerals. It also comes in three kid-approved flavors: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
10 grams protein, 180 calories
Soy is one of the few plant foods that delivers the same high-quality form of protein found in foods like meat, chicken, fish and eggs. It's also a good source of fiber, a substance that helps support healthy digestion. For easy, on-the-go snacking, divide a bag of shelled, frozen edamame into half-cup portions and store in the freezer in sandwich bags. Then simply defrost as you get ready to head out the door.
8 grams protein, 100 calories
5. Frozen Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches
Everyone deserves a treat now and then, but why not make it a healthy one? For a nutritious alternative to ice cream, slice a banana crosswise into six equal rounds. Spread one teaspoon of a nut butter - peanut butter, almond or even sunflower - on three of the rounds and then top with the remaining banana slices to make three mini sandwiches. Freeze for one hour, or overnight.
5 grams protein, 200 calories
Now that you have some snack-spiration get your child involved and enjoy! For more ideas check out more recipes.
Data on File, April 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.
 Generating Targetable Strategies for Improving Malnutrition Status among 2-5 Year Olds. Archdeacon AL, et al. Presented at 2018 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, Toronto, Canada.
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How to Talk to Your Kids About Nutrition
As a parent, you want your children to have the healthiest food possible, but good nutrition for kids goes beyond what's being served at the kitchen table today. Even though your kids might need your help now, they'll be making their own decisions about food before you know it. Jennifer Williams, MPH, pediatric nutrition research scientist with Abbott, shares how you can give them some direction for solid nutrition education.