How much protein do children need?

roasted pork shoulder on a chopping board

Kids need adequate protein in order to grow up strong and healthy. Protein is essential for the developing immune system and brain, and the growth and maintenance of the body's supporting structures including bones, muscles, skin and hair. In fact, every cell in the human body contains protein.

Your body uses the protein you eat to make specialised protein molecules. These make up enzymes that power many chemical reactions and the haemoglobin that transports oxygen in the blood.1 At least 10,000 different proteins make us what we are and keep us that way.1

Due to the demands of growth and development, obtaining adequate protein is particularly important throughout infancy, childhood and adolescence. That's why a child's protein needs are significantly higher per kilogram of body weight than an adult's. Skimping on protein may therefore affect their ability to grow properly and stay healthy.

Is your child getting enough?

Here are the current protein recommendations per kilogram of body weight for kids across all age groups.2

Age Recommended daily intake (RDI)
1-3 yrs 14g/day (or 1.08g/kg)
1-4 yrs 20g/day (or 0.91g/kg)
9-13 yrs 40g/day (or 0.94g/kg)
14-18 yrs 65g/day (or 0.99g/kg)
9-13 yrs 35g/day (or 0.87g/kg)
14-18 yrs 45g/day (or 0.77g/kg)

Different kinds of protein

Protein is built from building blocks called amino acids. Some of these can be made in the body but others, known as 'essential amino acids', cannot and therefore must come from the food we eat.

Animal sources of protein deliver all the essential amino acids your body needs but plant-based sources may be missing one or more. It's therefore important that if you don't eat animal products such as meat, fish and chicken, that you eat a variety of different plant protein-containing foods each day in order to obtain all the amino acids you need.

How to ensure your child gets the protein their growing body needs

It's relatively easy to ensure your child has enough protein every day, as even fussy kids usually enjoy many of the foods that are high in protein. Good sources of protein for kids include:3

  • Turkey and chicken
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lean cuts of beef, lamb and pork
  • Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Pinto beans, black beans, red kidney beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds including almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds and walnuts
  • Tofu, tempeh and other soy products
  • Quinoa

Here's an example of how a five year old might consume their recommended 20g of protein in a day.

  • Breakfast: 1 boiled egg on toast (approximately 6g of protein4)
  • Lunch: A ham and salad sandwich (approximately 4.5g protein4)
  • Snack: ½ tablespoon of peanut butter with celery sticks (approximately 3.5g protein4)
  • Dinner: Stir-fry with chicken breast and vegies (approximately 9g protein4)
  • Total: 23g of protein

Here's an example of how a nine year old boy might obtain their recommended 40g of protein in a day:

  • Breakfast: Baked beans on toast with a glass of milk (approximately 12g protein4)
  • Lunch: Egg and lettuce sandwich (approximately 6g protein4)
  • Snack: Tub of yoghurt (approximately 11g protein4)
  • Dinner: Small piece of steak with vegies (approximately 13g protein4)
  • Total: 42g of protein

The key is to try and include a source of protein in each meal, whether animal or plant-sourced.