How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Protein

by Charlie Higgins

Having a toddler who's a fussy eater can be frustrating, especially when the child avoids certain essential food groups. Though many toddlers often shun fruits and vegetables, some avoid protein as well. Protein, which is found in meat, dairy, nuts and legumes, is necessary for proper and healthy growth of children, particularly toddlers and preschoolers. Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies to ensure your toddler is getting the recommended daily intake of protein.

Feed your toddler 2 cups of milk per day. Nutritionist Sue Gilbert points out that there are a number of ways to incorporate milk into the diet if your child doesn't like drinking it straight. Add dry powdered milk to muffins or bread. Make silver dollar pancakes with low-fat milk or try fresh fruit smoothies made with yogurt. Serve chocolate or strawberry milk for a change.

Introduce small amounts of meat into every meal. Gilbert recommends an ounce of meat per day. Try different types of meat, including chicken and tuna fish. Mix the meat in with foods that you know your child enjoys, such as macaroni and cheese, or disguise the flavor with seasonings and dressings. Substitute meat with tofu if your child doesn't respond well to meat or refused to eat it.

Supplement meat and dairy with other protein-rich foods. According to Baylor College of Medicine, the daily recommended amount of protein for toddlers is 16 g, which is covered by the 2 cups of milk and 1 oz. of meat. Substitute part of the meat or dairy portion at a meal with a legume such as mashed chickpeas, kidney beans or black beans (beans are rich in fiber as well). A large egg contains 6 g of protein, so incorporate them into meals as well. Peanut butter is also a good source of protein, with 4 g per tablespoon.

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  • Try different combinations, flavors and serving styles. Toddlers can be very fussy eaters but will often eat a food that was previously shunned just because it looks different to them.
  • Talk to your child's pediatrician about vitamin supplements if you're still concerned about his protein intake.


  • Never force a child to eat a food he doesn't like. This can be a traumatic experience that leads to eating issues down the road.

About the Author

Charlie Higgins is journalist, editor and translator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has written for a variety of lifestyle and niche market websites, including International Food Trader, The Olive Oil Times, microDINERO, Sounds and Colours, Connecting Worlds and The Buenos Aires Reader.

Photo Credits

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