Protein Can Support Infant Growth

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We’ve all heard about the importance of protein in the aging population or in an athlete’s diet, but are you aware of the importance of introducing quality protein in an infant’s diet? Meat can be an important source of much-needed protein in an infant’s diet during the transition to solid foods, according to new research from the University of Colorado published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The first six-to-12 months of life is a period of rapid growth when nutrition plays a pivotal role and, for many parents, meat, which is high in protein and many micronutrients, may not be the first choice for an infant’s complementary feeding. Yet new research suggests meat-fed infants (complementary to formula or breastfeeding) could have an advantage when it comes to early length growth.The research suggests introducing higher amounts of protein and introducing meat into the diet at five months could be potentially beneficial for linear growth (length gain). *(1, 2)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solid foods at four-to-six months of age and advises exposing babies to a wide variety of healthy foods, including a variety of different textures. For babies who are mostly breastfeeding, meat may also have the added benefit of more easily absorbed iron and zinc, as breastfed infants are at a higher risk of becoming iron deficient than formula-fed infants. The World Health Organization also recognizes the need for protein early, recommending infants eat meat, poultry, fish or eggs daily, if possible.

So how do you incorporate protein into a child’s diet? Below are ideas or suggestions on how to get your little one fueled up as they grown up!

Recommended baseline serving recommendations: Note: protein needs will vary according to age, sex and activity level.

  • 6 months to 1 year – 2-3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day

  • 1 year – 1.5 ounces per day

  • 2-3 years – 2 ounces per day

  • 4-8 years – 3-4 ounces per day

  • 9-13 years - 5 ounces per day

  • 14-18 years - 5-6 ounces per day

What does an ounce look like? Some general examples include:

· One egg

· ½ cup cooked quinoa

· ¼ cup of tofu or peas

· 1 tbsp. of nut butter

· ¼ cup of beans (kidney, black, pinto, butter beans etc.)

· String cheese

· Cheese the size of a domino

· ¼ cup of almonds

· ¼ cup of edamame

· 3-4 medium shrimp

· Ice cream scooper of meat

· 1/8 cup of Greek yogurt

For infants

o Look for meat and vegetable baby food pouches - most retailers carry, and contain a quality protein like chicken, beef, turkey or pork which are usually pureed and mixed with vegetables in a convenient ready-to-eat baby pouch.

o Pureed meat in baby food jars – these typically are not mixed with any other ingredients and just read as the protein as the single ingredient such as beef, chicken or pork - also available at most retailers.

o Homemade pureed meat protein – If you're cooking up a meal for the rest of the family you can easily mix your protein of choice with a little formula or breastmilk in a blender and offer to your little one. The key is to make sure it is blended to a smooth consistency so not to pose any choking hazards.

o Fish such as salmon, cod, seabass and trout make for great protein options while incorporating healthy Omega-3’s for brain development and cognitive health.

o Beans, quinoa, lentils and tofu are plant-based protein options that can also be offered to infants as they become more familiar with finger foods and can also be pureed similar to the meat protein options stated above.

o Plain Greek yogurt – even though infants don’t drink cow’s milk until after the age of one, plain Greek yogurt can be offered and provides a great quality protein option with no added sugars.

After the age of 1 the protein options are endless. Try offering a variety of plant-based proteins and meat proteins at each meal to expose your child to a variety of tastes and textures.

Animal-based protein at meals could include your standard beef, chicken, turkey, pork, dairy, fish and eggs.

§ Deli meat wrapped in cheese

§ Cottage cheese with seeds or fruit

§ Taco cups made with ground beef or turkey

§ Greek Yogurt and fruit

§ String cheese with fruit or nuts

§ Homemade fish sticks or chicken tenders

§ Salmon patties

§ Egg and veggie cups

Plant-based options can include lentils, legumes, tofu, beans, seeds, nut butter, lentil or bean pasta.

§ Pumpkin, sunflower seeds and almonds with string cheese or cottage cheese

§ Chia seed pudding

§ Quinoa bowls with black beans and roasted veggies

§ Nut butter toast with berries on top

§ Almonds (or almond butter) and apples (or any fruit)

§ Roasted chickpeas

§ Bean pasta and sauce (most kids like buttered noodles with parmesan cheese)

§ Protein and fruit smoothie with chia or hemp seeds

§ Edamame

§ Lentil soup

I know what you’re thinking, “My kid will never eat that!” Have you tried offering? It is suggested you have to offer a child new foods over 10 times before they might “try” a bite. Keep offering a variety of foods with different colors, textures and protein sources at every meal. If they don’t eat it, wrap it up, place in the fridge and offer again at the next meal. Be creative with the names of the foods being offered or cut them into fun shapes as to entice your child to try something new! As with any child, exposing them to a variety of foods and textures early on sets them up for healthy eating habits later on in life.

1 Tang M, Hendricks AE, Krebs NF. A meat- or dairy-based complementary diet leads to distinct growth patterns in formula-fed infants: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2018. Volume 107 (5): 734–742.

2 Tang M, Krebs NF. High protein intake from meats as complementary food increases growth but not adiposity in breastfed infants: a randomized trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014; 100 (5):1322-1328.

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