Proteins for Babies & Toddlers: Importance, Requirements and Sources

Protein for Babies & Toddlers – Importance and Requirements

Medically Reviewed By
Vandana Sharma (Paediatric Nutritionist)
View more Paediatric Nutritionist Our Panel of Experts

A nutrient-rich diet is very important for young and growing children. Protein is one important nutrient that must be a part of your child’s meals. The star nutrient, protein for babies and toddlers, is essential in repairing and maintaining the body by acting as the building blocks of hormones, muscles, tissues, hair, and enzymes (2). Babies and toddlers need more protein than older children and adults. However, the test appears when you have got a picky eater. Getting them to eat food, and that, too, nutritious food, is a different challenge altogether. So, allow us to provide the appropriate protein requirements for babies and toddlers to level down your nutrition worries. Let’s also talk about the different protein sources than the ones you already know.

Protein Requirements for Infants and Toddlers

The first question we generally get is, ‘How much protein does a toddler need?’ Let’s take a look at what proteins are required for infants and toddlers:

1. 0-6 Months

Breast milk provides all the protein at this stage. The baby’s systems are not yet ready to handle anything other than liquids.

2. 6 Months Old

At this age, you should start weaning your baby; protein-rich solid foods can be introduced at this point, alongside breast milk or formula. As per a 2006 study, the average protein requirement for babies at the age 6 months is 1.12 g/kg per day (4).

3. 8 Months Old

Infants of this age can and should be given chopped meats and vegetables to eat. Mashed beans, egg yolks, paneer, and curd are also good for your eight-month-old.

4. 10 Months Old

Now, your baby will be able to eat the same kind of food that the family eats. Be careful, and make sure that the food is soft and cut into small, easy-to-eat pieces.

5. 1 – 3 Years Old (Toddlers)

The average toddler should get about 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight on a daily basis in order to grow healthy and strong.

Importance of Protein

Proteins are made of amino acids. Our bodies need 22 amino acids in order to maintain and grow hair, skin, bones, and so much more. Our bodies can only naturally produce 13 of these acids, so we need to get 9 of them from the food we eat. Protein is also used to produce haemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood.

1. For Babies

Infants, in particular, need protein because their body weight doubles in the first six months. If you do not give your child enough protein, it may lead to slowing down of growth and development and may impair the heart and lungs. They will also become more prone to illness, and the illness will also drain them of the energy they need to grow healthy and strong.

2. For Toddlers

Walking requires a lot of energy, and toddlers, in particular, are learning how to walk, meaning they need more protein. The brain cells also need protein in order to develop speech and language skills.

Baby eating veggies

Can a Vegetarian Diet Cause Protein Deficiency?

Most complete proteins (those containing all nine amino acids not found in our bodies) are found in meat sources, while incomplete proteins (those containing only some, but not all of the amino acids) are found mostly in plants. It is very rare for any plant to have a complete protein source.

By combining different vegetables, you can surely make up for all the necessary amino acids. A vegetarian diet will not lead to a protein deficiency.

Having said that, it is also important to consider that not all children like all veggies! Timely monitoring of deficiencies can go a long way in avoiding preventable deficiencies.

Can Protein Cause Food Allergies?

Proteins in food can be responsible for causing food allergies. This can be seen in the example of milk. Milk has a protein known as casein, which may lead to allergic reactions in certain children with a sensitive system. Every protein has a different structure, however, and this is why most children will only be allergic to a certain type of protein found in a particular food.

When Will Your Child Require Extra Protein?

Here are the reasons why your baby may need to consume extra protein:

  • If your child is suffering from an infection or illness, his body will be using up more protein than normal. In a case such as this, it is most often recommended to give your child a bit of extra protein to help him keep up his energy.
  • The main function that your small intestine performs is absorbing the required nutrients from the food you consume and sending them into the bloodstream. If a child is suffering from malabsorption, it means that their small intestine has a problem and is unable to absorb the nutrients properly. In this case, more protein will be required by the child’s body.
  • Consuming proteins can also help manage lung and heart problems, so those children who are suffering from either of the two will need to have additional protein in their diet.
  • Children who have undergone surgery should have more protein in their diet in order to heal better.

How to Encourage Your Child to Eat More Protein?

Rather than forcing your child to eat different foods, try making eating their protein-packed meals a bit more fun and exciting through these tips. These foods rich in protein ideas for toddlers will help you feed your little one easily.

1. Milkshakes

Who does not love a good milkshake? Milk is a great source of protein and tastes amazing with fruits. Avocado milkshakes are a good snack to give your child, as avocados are rich in proteins. Banana shakes are also really good at delivering protein to your child.

2. Cool Shapes

Children are learning so much about the world around them, and they are often fascinated by very simple things. Try cutting their food into different shapes to make it pleasing and more fun for your child to eat. You can use a cookie cutter for this. Even arranging their food in a visually fun way will make it all the more interesting for them to eat.

Hear shaped paneer

3. Dip Trip

Kids enjoy finger food, as it is easy for them to pick up and eat. What makes finger food even more exciting is when there is something fun and delicious to dip it into! Try making non-spicy chutney, or hummus and salsa for your child to dip his finger foods into.

4. Pasta Masta

Pasta comes in many different shapes and is something that is quick and easy to make. Pasta can be put into soups and made fun for your children. Add your protein to pasta dishes, and try to serve a different shape of pasta every time to keep the kids interested.

5. Egg Dishes

Children love eggs. Whip that golden wonder into tasty omelettes, serve it hard-boiled, or make an egg sandwich. The recipes are endless.

Sources of Protein for Infants and Toddlers

There are numerous protein-rich foods for babies that will be beneficial to their overall health. There are even proteins that can help in case they are not getting enough through their regular balanced meals or if they have a need for it. Here are some sources of protein for your little ones:

1. Dairy

Dairy contains a lot of protein; a half cup of milk contains 4g protein (5). Most children do not have a problem consuming dairy products like milk, cheese, etc. and you will often find their favourite foods often contain these ingredients.

2. Eggs

Eggs are easy to make and are very versatile. They are rich in protein (3), with six grams of it in each egg. You should avoid serving the egg whites until the child is one year old.

3. Beans

This is another versatile favourite that is rich in protein and supplies your child with fibre. Puree some beans for your child. However, as canned beans have a higher sodium content, try using fresh ones instead. Hummus is a favourite dish among many.

4. Nut Butters

To avoid choking, you can opt for nut butter instead of whole nuts. A fun snack for your child can be a peanut butter and jam sandwich. If your child has a nut allergy, you can opt for the soy or sunflower versions instead. Remember to avoid giving whole peanuts to your baby before the age of 4 years (1).

Girl eating bread and butter

5. Meat

An excellent source of protein and iron, meat is the way to go. Not all children like meat, however, and tend to fuss when it comes to eating it. If your child is like this, try chicken or turkey breast. Meatballs and cutlets are forms in which children enjoy eating meat.

6. Baby Cereal

High-protein baby cereal is available in the market that you can give your child for a quick fix of protein. Just add some breast milk or formula to soften it up and make it easier for your child to eat.

7. Quinoa

This grain has a nutty flavour and is well-liked amongst kids. It is also one of the few grains that are rich in protein. You can give it to your toddler in many ways, such as in pancakes, muffins, smoothies, and casseroles.

8. Protein Powder

Though this has never been done before, experts say it is okay to give your child some protein powder for babies as a supplement for protein if you feel your child needs more protein. Make some protein shakes for toddlers using milk, their favourite fruit, and the protein powder. You can also put in dry fruits. There are protein supplements for babies that can help in case they are not getting enough.

9. Fish and Seafood

Fresh tuna, lobster, shrimp, mackerel, anchovies, and salmon (3) are some protein-rich fish and seafood. These are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that help with brain development. Please remember to thoroughly cook and debone the marine food before serving it to your toddler.

What If My Toddler Won’t Be Getting Sufficient Protein From His Diet?

Well, you don’t need to be worried too much. Generally, there’s little cause for concern regarding insufficient protein intake for your child unless they are extremely selective eaters, avoiding protein-rich foods, especially dairy. If your doctor recommends additional protein for catch-up growth or due to a medical condition, collaborate with your medical team to create a personalized plan ensuring your toddler receives the necessary nutrition for their unique development.

Each child is unique, and his required protein amount can sometimes depend on his weight and health. It is best to stick to a healthy and balanced diet in order to ensure that your child is getting an ideal amount of protein.


1. When can I start giving my baby peanut butter?; American Academy of Pediatricians;

2. Beyond Chicken Nuggets: Protein-Rich Alternatives for Picky Eaters; American Academy of Pediatricians;

3. Building Balanced Snacks to Feed to Toddlers; American Academy of Pediatricians;

4. Garlick. P. J; Protein requirements of infants and children; Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program.; PubMed;; 2006

5. Lauri. S; How much protein does my child need?; CHOC;; July 2021

Also Read: 

Foods that Help Toddlers to Gain Weight
Foods for Babies and Toddlers With Diarrhoea
Baby and Toddler Foods To Carry & Avoid While Travelling

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