If children consume too little protein in their diet, they can experience fatigue, decreased muscle mass, a weakened immune system and failure to gain weight or grow, according to MedlinePlus. Helping your child meet his protein recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, each day will prevent protein malnutrition. Some children, especially those experiencing rapid growth, child athletes and children who are tall for their age, may require more protein than the RDA.
Due to insufficient data available to determine an RDA for infants ages 0 to 6 months, a protein RDA doesn’t exist for babies within in this age range. However, an adequate intake of 9.1 grams per day was established by the Institute of Medicine for infants 0 to 6 months old; this value is believed to meet the needs of all babies in this age group. Adequate intakes are established when not enough data is available to determine an RDA. The protein RDA for babies ages 7 to 12 months is 11 grams per day. Most infants are able to meet protein requirements by consuming breast milk or infant formula. Other high-protein foods for infants ages 6 months and older include strained or pureed meats, egg yolks, cooked legumes and soft tofu; according to MedlinePlus, whole-milk yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese can be offered in small amounts.
Ages 1 to 8
The protein RDA for children ages 1 to 3 is 13 grams per day; children ages 4 to 8 have an RDA of 19 grams of protein each day. These are minimum values. A study published in a 2011 edition of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” showed that actual protein needs of school-aged children ages 6 to 11 exceed current RDAs. High-protein foods for children within this age range include lean meats, chicken, eggs, soy products, seitan, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and cheese. Peanut butter, nuts and seeds are also high in protein but could be choking hazards in children under the age of 2; always ask your pediatrician before offering these or tough cuts of meats to a young child.
Ages 9 to 13
The RDA for children ages 9 to 13 is 34 grams of protein per day. A child within this age range can meet this protein RDA by consuming 2 ounces of grilled chicken breast and 2 cups of low-fat milk. Other high-protein options include lean meats, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, yogurt and cottage cheese. Most children -- at least in developed countries such as the U.S. -- eat enough protein to meet their needs.
Ages 14 to 18
Protein RDAs for children ages 14 to 18 vary by gender. The RDA for boys in this age range is 52 grams of protein per day -- almost as much as the protein RDA for adult men, which is 56 grams per day. The protein RDA for girls ages 14 to 18 is 46 grams per day, which is the same as the RDA for adult women. High-protein options include lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, low-fat dairy products, legumes, soy products, peanut butter, nuts and seeds. For example, consuming just 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese provides about 28 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While getting plenty of protein is essential for childhood development, carbohydrates and fats are equally important. The Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages 1 to 18 consume 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates and 25 to 40 percent from fat, depending on the child’s age. Children ages 1 to 3 require more fat than older children. Based on the Institute of Medicine guidelines, children ages 1 to 3 should consume 5 to 20 percent of their calories from protein, while kids ages 4 to 19 should aim to eat 10 to 30 percent of their daily calories from protein. Healthy carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, milk and yogurt; examples of healthy fats are vegetable oils, purified fish oils, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, avocados and olives.
- MedlinePlus: Kwashiorkor
- MedlinePlus: Age-Appropriate Diet for Children
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Protein Requirement of Healthy School-Age Children Determined By the Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation Method
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- Seiya Kawamoto/Lifesize/Getty Images