Welcome to Kids Nutrition Advice, a weekly series where our resident registered pediatric dietitian Ayelet Goldhaber answers common questions parents have about feeding their children. Goldhaber specializes in pediatric and family nutrition. Have a question you want answered? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
My toddler doesn't like eating meat or fish. What are good alternative protein sources to feed them instead?
I get this question from parents all the time. While some kids seem to survive on chicken nuggets and fish sticks alone, others want nothing to do with them. Here’s the good news‒-there are plenty of other protein sources, and you can absolutely get adequate protein from other sources.
Lentils pack a double whammy. Not only are they a great protein source, but they have a lot of fiber and are super versatile. Add to soups, stews, chopped or sautéed veggies, or even eat on their own.
In my house lentils cooked in veggie broth is a favorite. Instead of adding water to the pot, I use a hearty vegetable stock and a few shakes of an Italian herb spice blend. Once they are soft and mushy, I add it to cooked rice for my toddler (FYI, this also makes a great leftover packed lunch for mama!). For my baby's food, I skip the rice, and instead pop the lentils in the blender along with roasted squash.
Hummus that has minimal ingredients served with pita chips and veggies is a great way to get protein in as a snack. Chickpeas are also great roasted whole with olive oil, salt and your favorite seasonings (I love adding za'atar). Roast at 375 F for about 30 minutes or until your desired texture is reached.
My current favorite combination is roasted eggplant, cauliflower and chickpeas, baked together on one sheet pan. It's easy to store in the refrigerator for easy meal prep, and clean up is fast, too.
Edamame is the ultimate high-protein snack food. It requires little to no preparation and doesn’t even need a fork or spoon. Kids love popping out the little pieces from the shell, so it's also helpful for building fine motor skills.
For more adventurous eaters, you can add red pepper flakes or even shake on some oregano. An easy trick? Buy the edamame frozen, then take out a handful to thaw in the fridge for afternoon snacks. Or you can steam it with sea salt and serve warm.
Chia seeds are tiny and often underestimated, but they can be added to nearly everything for an instant protein boost. I keep a jar of chia seeds on my counter and add them to meals and snacks all day long. I love them with yogurt, scrambled eggs, smoothies, oatmeal, avocado toast…I've even been known to add chia seeds to my toddler’s ice cream bowl!
Should I give my child protein supplements?
Generally speaking, if your child is eating a relatively well-rounded diet and has some form of protein at most meals, protein powders are not necessary. As a whole, I always prefer seeing protein sources from foods rather than from supplements when possible. I believe that protein powders should be reserved for extreme cases and with the guidance of a registered dietitian.
Unlike natural foods, protein powders have concentrated forms of protein, which can actually present some health risk if used in excess. Especially in children, I feel protein supplements should only be used with guidance from a registered dietitian or other licensed health care provider.
Ayelet Goldhaber is a registered pediatric dietitian and mother of two who holds a master's degree in clinical nutrition from New York University. She completed her clinical rotations at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and is currently part of the Pediatric Gastroenterology Team at a prominent children’s hospital in New York City.
Want more information about this topic? Get in touch with Ayelet here.