How to introduce protein into your baby’s diet

By Drum Digital
29 May 2014

A SuperMom in our Facebook community recently asked for advice about introducing her seven-month-old son to protein. We give expert advice on feeding your little one this valuable nutrient and tell you more about the best sources of protein.

The importance of protein

Protein is an important component of our muscles, organs and skin. The protein in our diet also helps repair and form cells. This is especially important for children because they’re growing and developing rapidly.

Proteins are made up of substances called amino acids. The human body needs 22 amino acids, but is only able to make 13 of them. The other nine must come from food and are known as essential amino acids.

When your baby eats food containing protein, it’s digested in their stomach and absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.

The amino acids into which it’s broken down are then used in a multitude of functions throughout your baby’s body – in skin, hair, bone, muscle and just about every tissue. The body also uses protein to produce haemoglobin that carries oxygen in the blood.

How much protein is necessary?

Once solid foods are introduced and your baby's consumption of breast milk or formula begins to decrease, you should start offering a balanced diet containing legumes, cereal, vegetables, eggs and dairy. Because a baby’s body doesn’t store protein, a little is needed every day. Therefore, it’s preferable to offer small amounts of protein-containing food on a daily basis.

A six-month to one-year-old baby needs about 13 g to 15 g of protein a day. Toddlers need 13 g to 19 g. By including one source of protein at every meal, your baby or toddler should receive the adequate nutrition they need.

Sources of protein

The following are all sources of complete protein. Please note not all of these foods will be suitable for your baby at all stages during their first year and it’s best to check with your local clinic or pediatrician.

  • Meat (particularly beef)
  • Poultry
  • Quinoa
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yoghurt)
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Spirulina
  • Fish
  • Legumes

Other sources of protein which need to be combined in order to provide the full complement of amino acids are:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Dried peas
  • Oats
  • Cornmeal
  • Rice
  • Rye
  • Wheat
  • Pasta

Meal ideas

  • Rice and beans
  • Stir-fried tofu and veggies with pasta
  • Chickpea soup with wholewheat bread
  • Mashed beans served with wholewheat tortilla or pitta

You can also combine incomplete proteins with dairy products:

  • Yoghurt with wheatgerm
  • Avocado mashed with cooked egg yolk served on wholewheat toast
  • Warm beans and rice topped with grated cheese
  • Oatmeal cooked with milk
  • Macaroni and cheese

-Janine Nel


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