Boost your protein IQ

A national survey has revealed parents and caregivers of young New Zealanders are worried about their children and teenager’s nutrient intake.

Conducted by an independent research agency, the survey revealed 69% of people with children and teenagers in their care are worried about them getting the right amount of nutrients in their daily diet.

The research was commissioned by Fonterra to ascertain the nation’s knowledge of the importance of protein, and its consumption in various sources, including dairy.

While most of the 1,055 respondents (74%) believed getting enough protein was important for their health, only 11% said they knew how much protein they need in a day, and many underestimated dairy as a source of protein.

Fonterra’s General Manager of Nutrition, Angela Rowan, says, “As Kiwis we have access to an amazing array of fresh high quality and locally produced protein sources, however, it would appear we’re all a bit confused about just how much protein we need for ourselves and our families, and how we can include protein in our diet for optimal health.”

Protein is important for people at all ages and stages of life, but it is especially important for healthy growth and development in children.

“It’s good to know that Kiwi children rarely have insufficient protein in their diets,” Rowan says, “However, parents and caregivers should be mindful of choosing sources of good quality protein that provide a range of other important nutrients and deliver enough of the protein children need.”

To help you understand the benefits of protein and how much protein is right for your child, we’ve prepared this handy guide.

What is protein?

Protein is one of the main macronutrients in food and is integral to body function.  Protein is made up of chains of smaller building blocks called amino acids, which, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, are necessary for building and repairing body tissues and help to maintain muscles and bones.  The main sources of protein for New Zealand children are from bread, milk, poultry, beef and veal.

How does protein benefit children?

As children grow, their overall food intakes and nutrient requirements change.  Along with encouraging a balanced intake of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains, getting adequate amounts of dairy and other protein rich foods into your child’s diet can help keep them satisfied, and help their rapidly growing bodies develop as they should.

How much protein does my child need?

While adults and teens over the age of 14 should be aiming to get between 15-25% of their energy needs from protein for optimal health, the proportion of protein a younger child needs from energy is not as high.  Protein is required for normal growth and development in children, but the amount that they require can differ with age and weight.

The below table, based on nutrient reference values for the Australian and New Zealand populations1, helps to give guidance on the minimum amount of protein your child should be getting each day:

protein iq

For example, a toddler weighing about 15kgs will need a minimum of roughly 16g of protein per day.  A seven-year-old weighing around 22kg will need at least 20g a day and your average 11-year-old girl, weighing about 36kg would need at least 31g per day.

What does enough protein for growth and development look like?

Protein is found in a variety of foods that can appeal to even the fussiest of eaters, including lean meat, dairy, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.  The Ministry of Health recommends providing children and young people with between 2-3 servings of dairy and 1-2 servings of other protein sources each day.  So, a glass of milk or pottle of yoghurt, a few slices of cheese and some fish or meat, or alternatives such as nuts or legumes, can get them well on their way to meeting their protein needs.  The table below shows some foods that are sources of protein2 and can easily be included in your child’s diet:

protein

 

In practical terms, if a toddler is having cereal with milk for breakfast, half an egg with lunch and 1/6th of a chicken breast with their dinner, plus a cup of milk before bed they are certainly getting enough protein. A seven-year-old would need to eat a little bit more protein – this could be as easy as providing them with one whole egg with lunch, one quarter of a chicken breast with dinner and a slightly larger cup of milk before bed. You may also want to include an afternoon or morning snack of nuts or cheese.

Understanding where to find good sources of protein is one part of the journey – encouraging your children to eat them is another!  Try getting them involved in preparing and cooking meals, encouraging them to help make or even make their own packed lunch when they are old enough.  The more familiar children become with foods, the more likely they are to try new foods, so start getting them interested in what you’re cooking in the kitchen!

  1. National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand including Recommended Dietary Intakes. Canberra and Wellington: National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health; 2006.
  2. The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 12th Edition 2017. 2. Food composition. 3. Databases. 4. New Zealand. I. Sivakumaran, Subathira. II. Huffman, Lee. III. Sivakumaran, Sivalingam IV. The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited. V. Ministry of Health.
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