In addition to other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, iron and calcium, protein is crucial to healthy toddler growth and development. Adequate protein intake is especially important for vegan and vegetarian toddlers, since meat and other animal products are some of the best sources of protein. Generally, however, most toddlers get plenty of protein if they eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Specific toddler protein requirements vary by age and weight. Generally, an average 30-pound, 3-year-old needs about 16 grams of protein each day, notes Ask Dr. Sears. A 2-year-old who gets at least 30 minutes of exercise each day needs about 4 to 6 oz. of protein a day, according to Wholesome Toddler Food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, offers online, customized daily food plans that provide recommendations for protein and other food groups, based on your toddler's age, gender and activity level.
Protein is an essential component of your body's tissues, cells, organs and muscles. The word is derived from the Greek word "protos," which means "first," since proteins are the most basic components of cells. Proteins are composed of 22 amino acids, 13 of which the body can produce. The best protein sources are those that contain all the amino acids that the body cannot produce. These food sources, known as complete proteins, tend to be found in animal products.
Fortunately, protein is present in a wide variety of foods. Animal products, such as milk, cheese, meat, yogurt, tuna and other fish, all contain large quantities of protein. Vegan and vegetarian toddlers can obtain protein from beans, rice and whole grains. As noted by the Nemours Foundation, combining foods, such as beans and rice or peanut butter and bread, provides a source of complete protein. Your child does not need to eat these combinations together in one sitting; they will provide the same health benefit if consumed in the same 24-hour period.
Many high-protein foods also contain large amounts of fat. You don't need to be too worried about your toddler's fat intake, since she needs fat in order to develop properly. But you should try to keep your toddler's total fat intake at about 20 to 30 percent of her total caloric intake. For example, if your toddler eats 1,300 calories per day, 260 to 390 of these calories should be from fat.