why and how to incorporate plant-based proteins into your babies/child’s diet
A topic that frequently comes up in my counselling practice is protein. How much does my baby or child need, how do I make sure they’re getting enough, and how can they eat meat if they only have three teeth! I have to admit, I have seen a toothless toddler scarf down slow-cooked beef with ease. It’s not the prettiest thing to witness, but it is possible. But not all babies and toddlers enjoy the taste and texture of meat. It can be a tricky food to introduce, but the important thing is to keep introducing even if your baby doesn’t immediately love it. For those babies and kids who are not carnivores, or who eat little to no meat, there is a way to incorporate protein without worry or pressure. I’m talking about plant-based proteins.
But first, it’s important to know that kids (and adults) don’t require a steak the size of their plate in order to receive the recommended amount of protein. Portion distortion is a real thing people! For example, according the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI’s) for protein, kids between the ages of 4-8 years old only need 19 grams per day or 0.95 g/kg/day. So, what does this look like? In plant-based protein this would be ½ cup of chickpeas or 1 cup of lentils. What’s important to remember is that babies and children are most likely obtaining their protein requirements through food, especially if protein is offered at multiple occasions throughout the day.
In my household, meat is not an everyday occurrence. I try to incorporate plant-based protein (also known as pulses) into my family’s diet not only because they are excellent sources of protein, but because they are quick, versatile, cost-effective and delicious! And did you know that Canada is one of the biggest exporters of pulses!? That includes beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas! If you follow me on social media, you may know that I have a serious love of lentils. My pantry is always stocked with cans of lentils to add to meals or baked goodies. I find it an easy way to boost the fibre (and therefore the feeling of fullness) to my kid’s meals and snacks.
And I’m SO thrilled that Baby Gourmet has jumped on board with this plant-based trend and created a new line up of nutritious and delicious 100% plant-based, lentil and chickpea finger food for babies—no rice or weird ingredients here! As a mom and Dietitian, I love that there’s finally a nutritious, high quality snacking choice down the baby aisle.
I thought I would share with you my love of lentils (and all plant-based protein) by giving you my top five reasons WHY you should add plant-based protein to your baby’s and child’s diet, as well as my top five reasons HOW to add plant-based protein to meals and snacks. So here goes!
Top Five Reasons You Should Be Including Plant-based Protein in Your Child’s Diet
- They are a great way to increase satiety (the feeling of fullness). Kids have little tummies. Which is why they require smaller more frequent meals. Pulses not only contain protein, but fibre too. Protein and fibre can help keep kids feeling fuller longer, which means less snack requests five minutes after a meal!
- Help with digestion. As a new parent I was obsessed win my kid’s poop. Why was it yellow, why was it green, what does THAT mean, is it supposed to smell that bad? The list was endless. Finally, my dietitian brain kicked in and I realized that as long as they were pooping and growing (and their stool didn’t contain blood) the colour or smell didn’t matter. All kids at some point or another develop a bit of constipation. Trying new foods, water intake, and so on can affect bowel movements. Pulses contain two types of fibre, both soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre helps with digestion and regularity, and pulses are a fantastic source! Also, Baby Gourmet’s new lentil and chickpea finger foods contain tummy-friendly probiotics that can help this cause too!
- They are convenient. What’s for dinner?! The panic sets in. In my opinion (and experience) this is where lentils really shine. Canned lentils are a staple in my household. Simply rinse them thoroughly and add to just about anything. They add flavour, texture, and a whole lot of great nutrition.
- Super kid-friendly. We’ve all been there. Supper comes and goes, and your toddler still did not eat their chicken. Surely, they will be hungry and miss out on essential nutrition that they need to grow and thrive! Wrong. Parents often think about their kid’s nutrition meal by meal, when in fact they should think about the day as a whole. So, on the night that they decided “no” to the chicken, keep in mind that they said “yes” to the carrot and hummus snack and to the lentil nuggets you made for lunch! Remember you are in control of what (and when) food is offered, and the kiddos are in charge of if they eat and how much.
- The possibilities are endless. When it comes to plant-based protein the possibilities are endless. Chickpeas are a fantastic finger food or snack, and lentils can be used in main dishes and baked goods! Yum.
Top Five Ways to Incorporate Plant-based Protein in Your Child’s Diet
- Snack time. What kid doesn’t love snacks. Try hummus (chickpea spread) and veggies or for older kids, roasted chickpeas! They’re crunchy and delicious. Bonus if you ask the kids to help make them.
- Baked goods. Lentils are the perfect pulse to add to baked goods. Check out this recipe for flourless chocolate lentil protein muffins.
- Meatless Monday. We all get stuck in meal preparation ruts. It’s easy to fall back on the sample old recipes. By opening up the protein base you give yourself the opportunity to try new things. Why not aim for plant-based protein once a week?
- Add to sauces and casseroles. I’ve added lentils to spaghetti sauce, macaroni and cheese, casseroles, you name it. It’s an easy and affordable way to add extra protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals (like iron)!
- Finger food. Chickpeas are a fantastic finger food for babies and toddlers. Simply rinse canned chickpeas thoroughly and serve. They are soft and entertaining and great way to practice the “pincher grasp”. Another great finger food is lentil nuggets. Perfect for little hands and the whole family!