When it comes to your child’s growth and development, we cannot neglect the importance of proteins. Protein is an essential component of your child’s diet. It is commonly referred to as the building blocks of the body since it plays a crucial role in muscle maintenance, skin, hormones and all body tissues. The challenge is that Indian diet tends to be very cereal-focused. 68 percent of Indians, including children, are protein deficient. This is why it is of utmost importance that parents are aware of the daily protein requirement of their children, and the importance it plays in health and growth. Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, and the body can produce 11 of these 20. This means that the remaining nine must come from food.

Why is protein important?

  1. Building a healthy, strong body: Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage and skin. Additionally, did you know that your hair and nails are comprised mostly of protein!
  2. Repairing damage: Your body uses protein to build and repair tissue after injury, and to maintain muscle tone.
  3. Supplying oxygen: Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin, this is a compound that carries oxygen throughout the body. Protein is essential for hemoglobin to be produced in sufficient quantities.
  4. Digesting food: About half the protein that you consume each day goes into synthesizing enzymes, which aids in digesting food.
  5. Regulating hormones: Protein plays an critical role in hormone regulation, especially during the transformation and development of cells during puberty.

What are essential and non-essential amino acids?

Now that we are familiar with the term amino acids, let us understand how they work. Essential and nonessential amino acids both produce energy and synthesize proteins, some of these form hormones, tissues, and other essential compounds like neurotransmitters. Your body cannot produce or store essential amino acids, which is why it is important to regularly supply your body with enough good quality protein. Once your body digests proteins, it is left with these amino acids for various functions.

While the name may suggest otherwise, non-essential amino acids play very essential roles. They support tissue growth and repair, maintaining immunity, formation of red blood cells, and hormone creation. However, unlike the essential amino acids, your body can synthesize these proteins if given enough good quality protein sources with essential amino acids.

How much protein do children need?

If a child is growing slowly or is petite for their age, they may not be getting the protein and nutrients needed for healthy growth. Children who are protein-deficient are also prone to a host of health issues, like fatigue, lack of concentration, delayed growth, bone and joint pain, delayed wound healing and decreased immune response.

Here is the daily requirement of protein for a child at different ages:

  • 1 to 3 years of age: 13 grams of protein every day
  • 4 to 8 years of age: 19 grams of protein every day
  • 9 to 13 years of age: 34 grams of protein every day

Tips to ensure your kids eat enough protein:

  • Choose quality: Protein requirements, like with all major food groups, depend on the quality of protein a child is getting and how easily digestible it is. If you are a non-vegetarian, animal proteins generally include all the essential amino acids and are highly digestible. It is recommended that a child’s diet include plenty of milk, eggs, and meats.
  • If you are a vegetarian, soy, peanut butter, quinoa are also complete proteins and serve as a healthy vegetarian alternative.
  • A kid-favorite tip: Peanut butter is readily available, delicious and versatile. You can spread it on bread, bananas, apples or chapati and offer it to kids.
  • Some meal suggestions: Try hummus on bread, cutlets made of chana, or include paneer or soya as a protein-packed evening snack. Alternatively, you can make soups for your child that contain beans