Healthy Protein Options For Kids Who Dislike Dairy

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

“My 8-year-old doesn’t like to drink white milk, nor does he like cheese or yogurt. I’m concerned he may not be getting enough protein. Aside from meat, are there other protein sources I can offer? Also, he will drink chocolate milk, but I was wondering if the added sugar makes that nutritionally a bad move.”

Dear Reader,

Protein is certainly important to your child’s growth and development. Similar to your son, many children do not enjoy dairy products such as plain milk, yogurt, and cheese. Thankfully, there are plenty of other protein sources that offer a variety of ways for parents to ensure their child is receiving an adequate amount.

Know your child’s protein needs

According to the recently released 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, a typical, healthy 8- or 9-year-old boy or girl should consume between 19-34 grams of protein each day. A complete listing of how much protein a child requires based on his or her age and bodyweight can be found by visiting and clicking on Appendix 7. Protein requirements might be different if your child is very athletic or has other health conditions, so contact a registered dietitian or your child’s pediatrician to better understand specific needs.

Offer a variety of high-protein foods

Although your son does not like milk, yogurt, or cheese, you can easily reach 19-34 grams of protein a day with foods such as poultry, seafood, red meat, eggs, beans, tofu, nuts, peanut butter, and other nut butters. Consider trying an egg and toast instead of a sugary cereal for breakfast, two slices of turkey or chicken on a sandwich for lunch, and another 2 ounces at dinner. There are also many vegetarian options, such as a half-cup of beans, which contributes 6 to 7 grams of protein and can be added to tacos, pastas, salads, and much more. Nuts and other nut butters add small amounts of protein and could be included as healthy snacks in between meals.

Watch out for high-sugar, high-carbohydrate snacks

Given that your son only enjoys chocolate milk (a common complaint!), consider serving this occasionally as a sweet treat in place of other high-sugar snacks like cookies, candy, and other desserts. An 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk contains 8 grams of protein (much less than a 2-ounce portion of poultry or meat), along with three unhealthy teaspoons of added sugar. Two glasses a day is the equivalent of two or three fun-sized candy bars and exceeds the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation of limiting total added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories (or 3 to 4 teaspoons for an 8- or 9-year-old — the equivalent of one glass of chocolate milk).

While consuming less sugar is preferred, the protein included in a glass of chocolate milk can slow the blood sugar spike that results from consuming straight sugar or refined carbohydrates.

When it comes to snacking, keep in mind that loading up on sugary foods and other snacks often results in children not being hungry for dinner, which usually contains a greater range of nutrients — including protein.

Find your go-to proteins

Try feeding your son different types of high-protein foods listed above to pinpoint the ones he enjoys most. This will allow you to plan meals and seek out recipes that you know will contribute to his protein needs. Many parents find it is helpful to make their child part of the meal-planning process.

Most children are not protein-deficient, but as a parent, it is important to monitor your child’s protein needs and intake. Luckily, there are plenty of protein-rich foods to satisfy these needs. Regularly incorporating high-protein foods is a matter of discovering which ones your child enjoys most and making them an integral part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.

Michael Leidig, MS, RD, LDN, CPT, is clinical director for the Center for Youth Wellness at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, and an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.