How Much Protein for Dinner?

by Hannah Wahlig
Picking the right proteins in the right portions is the key to a successful healthy dinner.

Picking the right proteins in the right portions is the key to a successful healthy dinner.

Whipping up dinners your whole family will love is tricky enough, but health-conscious moms with an eye on nutrition put even more pressure on themselves to create balanced, healthful meals. Dinners are usually the largest meals of the day, and protein-rich foods are a major component of a filling, nutritious dinner. Meeting the various protein needs of each member of your family ensures that everyone heads to bed with a full, but not overstuffed, belly.

Everyone's Protein Needs

Everyone needs protein to support their bodies, but not everyone at your table has the same daily protein needs. By the time you've reached adulthood, your growth has leveled off enough that your protein needs aren't related to your weight. Adult women need about 45 grams of protein each day, compared to the suggested 55 grams for adult men. Since children and teenagers are growing everyday, their protein needs are based on their ever-fluctuating weight. In simple terms, for every 2 pounds of weight, your child needs 1 gram of protein. Dinner time tends to be the time when families stock up on protein to make up for empty snacking throughout the day, so keeping protein needs in mind as your preparing the biggest meal of the day is critical for family health.

Portioning Your Proteins

Understanding portions helps you figure out how much of each food item should be on everyone's plate. Lean proteins from meat sources are notoriously oversized in restaurants, but on your dinner table, each person should receive about 3 ounces -- for most lean meats, that will deliver at least 20 grams of protein. No need to invest in a food scale; a 3-ounce portion is approximately the size of the palm of your hand, or a deck of playing cards. Protein is just one part of a balanced meal, though. Don't load up the rest of the plate with starchy, simple carbohydrates or fried sides. Dedicate half of the plate to fruits and vegetables and another quarter to complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. For picky eaters, hide the veggies in a spinach salad topped with light ranch dressing and a side of whole-grain garlic toast.

Dinner Picks for Protein

Not all proteins are created equally from a health perspective. Animal meat is one of the most versatile sources of dinner-friendly proteins, but fatty cuts add unnecessary cholesterol and calories. Leaner meats like skinless chicken breast, lightly marbled red meat and fish offer high levels of protein without equally high levels of fat. Processed proteins such as hot dogs or bacon are also loaded with non-nutritious preservatives, so opt for fresh meats whenever you can. If you're avoiding meat, dedicate 1/3 of the dinner plate to non-animal proteins such as tofu, lentils or black beans and rice. Instead of white starches, choose protein-rich whole grains such as quinoa.

Protein for Picky Eaters

If standard dinner proteins are wearing out your family's palate, experiment with less conventional dinner proteins to reignite those tired taste buds. Soups and stews filled with a variety of protein-rich beans and flavorful Mexican or Indian spices are a healthy departure from the norm. Dairy products are also protein superstars, but breakfast tends to be the more typical time to load up on dairy. Put a fun spin on dinner time by serving up classic breakfast dishes instead -- vegetable-filled omelets, Greek yogurt with mixed nuts and refreshing glasses of milk are high sources of protein suitable for a mixed-up dinner.

About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

Photo Credits

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