You’ve heard about protein, you know it’s important for building muscle, and you know meat, poultry and fish have a lot of it.
No worries about getting enough protein, either, at least here in the US. But according to research by the US government, we tend to “backload” our protein – meaning we get most of it at dinner. Their stats show that dinner gives us nearly 60% of our daily protein. Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day, yet it brings us only about 13% of our protein.
We may be getting enough protein, but do we get it EARLY ENOUGH in the day?
WHEN you eat protein is important. Kids (and adults) eat most of their protein and calories from after school on, but they NEED most of it earlier, when the demands of their day are greatest, starting at breakfast. Sadly, up to 40% of kids don’t even eat breakfast daily.
Load ‘em up with breakfast protein and they’ll work and feel better all day. It’s true. They’ll also be more focused at school and research has shown they also tend to eat less during the rest of the day. Anecdotally, in my practice, I’ve noticed that breakfast-skippers who start eating a good, high-protein breakfast also seem to be less tired after school, allowing them to be more active. It does makes sense, because without breakfast, they run out of energy. Kids shouldn’t want a nap after school, they should want to play, and protein-packed breakfast helps them do just that.
But what KIND of protein?
Meat has good protein but dairy and eggs actually have the highest quality protein, for most efficient use by your body. Most kids would especially benefit from more dairy. Why? The vast majority of kids (and adults!) also don’t get enough calcium, potassium, or vitamin D, and a simple glass of milk is like a cargo truck of these nutrients, and 6 other essential ones as well, so it covers a lot of ground, nutritionally. And, kids LIKE it.
You might think cereal and milk takes care of the protein at breakfast. For young kids, maybe. But for older kids, especially teens, that’s only about 10 grams of protein. Aim for 20-30 grams and they’ll stay full until lunch. Here are some options and their protein amounts, to help get them to that 20 grams. Combine them as you like:
- Glass of milk (any percentage of fat, white or flavored): 8 grams (some brands have 9 or 10 grams)
- Greek yogurt, flavored (a 5.3-oz cup): 12 grams
- String cheese (2 oz. portion): 12 grams
- 1 egg, any style: 6 grams
- 1 oz. cheese (cheddar, Swiss, etc.): 6 grams
- Cottage cheese, ½ cup: 14 grams
- Ricotta, low-fat, ¼ cup: 7 grams
- Peanut butter, 2 Tablespoons: 7 grams (but also about 190 calories, so use wisely if kids are overweight)
Cottage and ricotta cheese for kids? Yes, and they’re perfect in smoothies, as is Greek yogurt.
Keep it COW
To be clear: I’m talking about real milk. The “milk alternatives” like almond, coconut, rice, and other “milk” have almost no protein or naturally occurring calcium. Milk is naturally loaded with good stuff.
Nice add-on: the milk you buy is probably locally produced. Most places in the US are within a few hours’ drive of a dairy farm, even if you live in a big city. Pour a glass and feel good about supporting your local diary people.
Just as nice: milk is one of the best protein buys today. Even at $4.00/gallon, it’s only 25 cents a glass.