This morning my 3 year old shoved a piece of broccoli in my face and announced, “This broccoli is healthy for me because it’s full of protein”.  He’s a pro at overhearing things I say to my older kids – and then mixing it all up as well!

While he is of course correct that broccoli is healthy (how to get that into your kids more often – a topic for a different blog post), and he is even somewhat correct that leafy green vegetables do contain some amount of protein, I wouldn’t exactly say that broccoli is a main source of it.

So let’s talk a little bit about protein.

The word “protein” is from a Greek word that means “of first importance”, and it is most appropriately named. All of the structural materials within the body are built out of protein and the building blocks of protein are amino acids. Every reaction that takes place in the body is directly dependent on protein, and having enough of it in the body.

Protein does many things in the body, but as it pertains to our kids is this:

  1. Amino acids in high quality protein foods are what enables a child to have better cognitive abilities – and to focus, ideally without hyperactivity
  2. High protein diets can improve symptoms and produce better behavior, attention, and social function.  High protein diets (diets are high-protein and high-fat, and carbohydrates are drastically lowered) are also referred to as ketogenic diets. And while I don’t usually advocate ketogenic diets for kids, a modified one is perfectly safe and has been shown to vastly improve the symptoms of kids with learning and behavioral issues. 
  3. Eating more protein has been shown to aid in the absorption of many ADD/ADHD medications. It can help the body absorb it more efficiently and quickly – and can help diminish some side effects as well.

Best kinds of protein:

  1. Eggs. Cheap, easy, quick. What can be better? I encourage you to find a local farmer who can supply with farm fresh, local eggs as they eggs will be more nutrient dense due to the chickens ability to eat their natural diet of insects.
  2. Dairy. The best kind of dairy to consume is from raw, grass fed and organic cows and goats. However not everyone has access to that, so at the very last organic milk, cheese, and yogurt (with no artificial colorings or flavors!) are acceptable.
  3. Fish. This can be a hard one for many kids, “fishy” foods are often unacceptable to many kids with sensory issues or a sensitive palate. Tuna, salmon, and homemade or SOME store bought fish sticks (with only REAL food ingredients of course) are often well tolerated by kids. Try to source your tuna and salmon well, since there are health concerns with many of them.
  4. Chicken. So many options! Most kids will eat roasted chicken with mild seasonings, but other good options include: chicken nuggets, fried chicken, stir fried chicken with kid approved vegies and rice, etc. And the good news is that I have recipes for them all!
  5. Meat. Well sourced meat – ideally from grass fed animals is a nutritious source of protein, and is chock full of Omega 3s as well! But even if you don’t have access to a grass fed beef, conventional meat is still a decent source of protein and is an important source of nutrients for growing children. It’s not usually hard to get kids to eat some meat when served in the form of hamburgers or tacos.

Topic for another time: Why I don’t think that soy is good source of protein – or a healthy food at all!