Protein Powder for Kids: A Complete Guide
Protein is crucial for the growth of your child and protein powder is one way to ensure they’re getting enough. This is especially helpful if your picky eater isn’t a fan of whole food sources of protein, like nuts, dairy products, meat and fish. Protein powder works as a tasty way to get them the protein they need to grow.
Your first thought may be, however, that protein powder is normally consumed by adults; Is this safe for my child?
The short answer is: yes. With that said, not all protein powder is created equal. Here’s what you need to know about protein powder for kids and making sure your child gets enough while staying safe and healthy.
Your Child’s Protein Needs
A child’s protein needs increase as they grow, and these needs are the same for boys and girls from ages 2 to 8, according to the USDA. See a breakdown of their daily needs below:
- Ages 2 to 3: 2 ounces
- Ages 4 to 8: 4 ounces
- Girls ages 9 to 18: 5 ounces
- Boys ages 9 to 13: 5 ounces
- Boys ages 14 to 18: 6.5 ounces
For children ages 1 to 3, protein can make up 5 to 20 percent of total calories, and for children 4 to 18 years old, protein can account for 10 to 30 percent of total calories. Still, there are many reasons why your child may need more protein than normal, including:
- Growth disorders and nutritional deficiencies that could affect height and other areas of development. (Learn about this in our blog post: Types of Growth Disorders in Children).
- High-activity levels, like moving up to a higher-level sports team or increased activity during times like the summer, when kids are outside playing all day.
- Food intolerances or preference that keep your child from eating important protein sources, like dairy, seeds or meats. For example, children who eat all vegetarian or vegan may need to consider supplementing their protein.
Choosing Protein Powder
The goal is to find the most natural, high-quality protein powder you can. That means avoiding genetically modified ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, and those pesky “natural flavors.” Here are a few details to keep in mind as you browse through the protein powder aisle.
- Check the ingredients: You may think all protein powders are chemical- and sugar-filled, but that’s not the case. There are dozens of brands that make protein powder from whole, organic ingredients that are good for your child. The Healthy-Height shake mix is a great example of this; check out the ingredients.
- Be wary of “natural flavors”: When checking the ingredients, make sure you’re avoiding anything with “natural flavors” listed on the label. “The FDA allows something to be labeled “natural” if the original source is a natural product, even though undisclosed items may be added to that natural product during processing. For instance, in order to remove oils from the soy, hemp, rice or peas so they don’t turn rancid on the shelves, the grains and beans are often treated using chemicals that may remain on the food,” explains Casey Seidenberg, co-founder of Nourish Schools.
- Stick with whey protein: This type of protein is made from cow’s milk and is one of the most common forms of protein found in powders—it’s also commonly found in baby formulas and is made up of casein and whey.
If you’re still unsure, bring the protein powder to your child’s pediatrician. They can answer questions and make suggestions based on your child’s needs.
Serving Size: What You Need to Know
Much of the concern surrounding protein powder for kids is related to the amount kids need versus what’s given to them. As the parent, you are the one in control of this. Before mixing the powder into milk, water or a smoothie, assess the brand’s serving size and what your child’s needs are that day. With a quick check like this, you can be sure to give them an amount that will do what you intended: supplement their protein needs.
If you’re using a kid-friendly protein powder like Healthy-Height’s Growth Promoting Shake Mix, you can follow the label instructions for serving size more closely. Just be aware of the age range. With Healthy-Height, for example, the serving size is appropriate for younger children.
When using adult standard protein powder, always consider portioning a half serving, or less, depending on the age and protein needs of your child. If one ounce is equal to a little more than 28 grams, and the average scoop of protein powder has 20 to 25 grams per scoop, you’ll likely need to give much less on any given day.
Get Some Ideas
If you’re ready to give protein powder a try, check out these kid-friendly recipes—and remember: you can use protein powder for more than just a smoothie!
- Orange Creamsicle Smoothie
- Chocolate Blueberry Smoothie
- Strawberry Banana Smoothie
- No-Bake Healthy-Height Brownie Bites
- Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes with Vanilla Cinnamon Icing
Protein Powder for Kids: Yes or No?
There are many good reasons to let your kids indulge in a protein shake (or other fun protein-filled treat!) that’s fueling them with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. When choosing protein powder for kids, just remember to check the label for ingredients and pay close attention to serving size.
While this shouldn’t be a replacement for all of their protein needs, nor a quick fix, it can be added into a well-rounded diet to help those who need a little extra help.