Absolutely! Children should eat twice as much meat – well, protein. Taking a retrospective walk back to childhood, meal times were greatly looked forward to. Only at this time did we each get a piece of meat or boiled egg. Those times were indeed moments of bliss.
Similarly, if we ever did get an opportunity to eat more than one piece of meat, it was only during the festivities. Parents attributed this to some form of discipline. However, I would say a little more knowledge on the importance of protein in child development, would have given us more eggs and meat to eat. Hahaha!
Throughout the developmental stages of a child, from infancy to adolescence, nutritional needs rise progressively in both quality and quantity. This is as a result of the intensive demands of growth and development, such that a great deal of nutrients is required. It is therefore important to note that deficiencies in these required nutrients could lead to malfunctions mostly in the areas of physical and cognitive development. One of such nutrients to NEVER miss in a child’s meal is PROTEIN.
Some of the problems that could arise if a child becomes protein-deficient are kwashiorkor, bone fractures, fatty liver, autoimmune and immunodeficiency disease, brain underdevelopment, stunted growth, amongst others.
Protein, characterised as a building block of life, is clearly too important to be ignored. It is a component of every cell in the human body and is necessary for proper growth and development, especially during childhood and adolescence. Protein helps the body build, and repair cells and body tissue. Also, it is a major part of the skin, hair, nails, muscle, bone, and internal organs.
In addition, protein is important for many body processes, including blood clotting, fluid balance, immune response, vision, and production of hormones and enzymes.
According to the Food and Nutrition research, children’s protein needs are shaped by their age, weight, physical activity and calorie needs.
Typically, an infant would require more protein per kilogram of body weight than any other age group, majorly due to their fast-paced growth. Infants from 0-6 months would require 0.69 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and 7-12-month old’s, 0.55 grams per day. Source
Protein is an integral part of maintaining the growth rate in toddlers. From ages 1 to 3, toddlers would require 0.48 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Source
It is no wonder then that the American Dietetic Association recommends that children eat at least 2-3 servings of meat or eggs per day.
The importance of protein in a child’s development cannot be overemphasized, especially when available in the right amount and quality. However, going overboard with protein consumption has its attendant risks as well. A study by the Food and Nutrition Research in 2013, revealed that excess protein consumed in the early stage of life poses a risk of obesity in the later stages of life. The key, therefore, is balance.
For protein-dense foods for children, here are a few examples: Meat, Eggs, Tofu, Milk, Yoghurt, Soy Milk, Cheese, and so much more.
Children cannot do without protein. It is an essential requirement for proper growth and development. Parents and guardians would do well to ensure that with each meal children get a piece of meat too – making it two doubles the benefit.
Judith Igwe, Public Relations Professional, writes from Lagos.