Protein Needs | Plant Based Foods

Protein Needs of Infants and Toddlers

a woman in a black dress is smiling
By Lauren Panoff
a hot woman with a scarf around her neck
Edited by Lucia Gcingca

Updated June 11, 2024.

a little girl drinking milk from a glass

Break down the importance of protein needs for infants and toddlers. Uncover its role in your little one's growth and development!

Great toddler nutrition starts with excellent infant nutrition. Most parents recognize the importance of proper nutrition as part of their baby’s development process, but how should they account for macronutrients like protein?

Here’s what you need to know about protein needs for infants and toddlers and how to provide it well for growing kids.

» Ensure your baby is getting enough protein with this toddler formula

Why Protein Matters: Goodness for Your Kid

We hear about protein all the time. We may be a little bit obsessed with this macronutrient. So, what’s the big deal with protein, especially for babies and toddlers?

Protein is an essential macronutrient (along with fat and carbohydrates, which we’ll cover another time). It’s required for growth and development, is used to repair tissue, and helps to maintain the proper balance and pH of body fluids.

Some proteins are enzymes and are needed to lead critical metabolic reactions in the body:

  • Blood clotting
  • Digestion
  • Muscle contraction
  • Energy production

All the attention placed on protein may seem like we’re not getting enough of it. But most people eat more protein than is needed.

» Learn more about the advantages of rich-in-protein plant-based toddler nutrition 

How This Translates to Babies and Toddlers

When you think about protein food, you might envision weightlifters guzzling shakes made with protein powder, the shelves of colorful protein bars at the grocery store, or a big plate of steak.

However, it’s important to understand how much your baby or toddler needs and the best places to get it.

» Find out if protein shakes are good for kids

How Much Protein Infants Need

So, how do you incorporate enough protein into your baby's diet? During the first six months of life, infants should meet their protein needs with breast milk or infant formula.

Between 4-6 months of age, infants can start being introduced to age-appropriate solid (pureed) foods, which are fun but also excellent protein sources.

You can make simple and delicious pureed blends with cauliflower and potato, peanut butter and banana, mashed scrambled egg with milk, or white beans with spinach.

» Discover more recipes that will help you incorporate proteins to your baby's diet

Recommendations for infant protein needs fall around 1-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight for babies or around 11 grams of protein per day for children 7-12 months old. Protein needs will increase slightly as your child grows and gets bigger.

For example, an average of 20 pounds, or 9.1 kg, the child would need approximately 9-14 grams of protein daily.

For optimal protein needs, look no further than Else Nutrition's Baby Super Cereal. They are made from almonds and buckwheat and are an excellent source of proteins and healthy fats, making them the best choice for your baby aged 6 months and older.

How Much Protein Toddlers Need

By toddlerhood, most children can meet their protein needs through solid foods rather than formula or breast milk. Some great protein sources for toddlers include:

  • Whole cow’s milk
  • Organic soy milk or foods
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Nut and seed butter

» Discover more protein-rich recipes that meet your toddler's needs

If your child is a picky eater, try incorporating high-quality plant-based options like Else formula into their diet. With 4.5 grams of protein per 240 ml serving, it's an easy way to ensure they get the nutrition they need.

Children ages 1-3 have a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of around 13 grams of protein per day. To give you an idea of how much protein may be in plant based foods for babies and toddlers, here are some examples:

  • ¼ cup white beans: 3 grams
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter: 3.5 grams
  • 1 Slice whole wheat toast: 5 grams
  • 1 Tbsp hummus: 1 gram
  • 1 oz tofu: 3 grams
  • ¼ cup cooked quinoa: 6 grams
  • ¼ cup cooked lentils: 8 grams

Meeting your child’s protein needs involves offering various foods throughout the day in addition to formula or milk.

» Looking for healthy mealtime inspiration? Check out Else's Easy Recipes

An Easy Way to Meet Your Child's Protein

Protein is an important nutrient whether you have an infant or toddler, and fortunately, it doesn’t have to be difficult for your child to meet his or her protein requirements. 

Many plant based foods provide healthy protein to help your child wean from breast milk. Making it easy for your child to start a vegetarian diet.

Else Nutrition offers high-quality vegan formulas that your kids will adore!

The content and advice provided in this article are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.