Many kids get enough protein in their diets as it is and don’t need any extra supplementation. However, an active lifestyle, illness or a habit of picky eating can lead to a lack of nourishment, and kids that don’t get proper nutrition don’t grow or thrive as they should. Also, “protein helps to feed the brain,” says Doug Cowan, Psy.D., MFCC, who recommends high protein diets for children with ADHD. So if you think your child needs more protein, there are a few ways you can give it to him.
The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend fitness supplements for children under 18, and even cautions against dietary protein supplements. Pediatric sports medicine expert Dr. Teri M McCambridge, chairwoman of the AAP’s Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, says teens especially eat more than enough protein. She doesn’t think they need the extra boost that whey protein provides, according to the "New York Times." However, Dr. Cowan says that ADHD kids need to eat 60 percent protein and 40 percent carbohydrates for breakfast, and an even 50-50 split for other meals, and that “protein supplements might be needed to get the added protein for breakfast.” "ADDitude Magazine," a magazine for people with ADD, ADHD and learning disabilities, agrees. Their Spring 2008 issue cites a study published in the "Journal of Psychiatric Research" when George Washington University researchers found that consuming high-protein breakfasts helped kids with ADHD concentrate. Both Dr. Cowan and holistic pediatrician Randall Neustaeder, OMD, recommend 1 to 2 tablespoons or 15 to 20 grams of whey protein for a kid-friendly protein shake. One commercial whey protein made just for kids is Beneprotein by Nestlé, but you can also find a good whey protein at your local health food store.
If your child is allergic to dairy products, if you want her supplement to have less fat or if you’re a vegan who doesn’t want to give her whey protein, soy protein is an alternate choice. It’s one of the only plant proteins with a complete protein profile -- meaning it contains all of the amino acids that people need for proper nutrition. These amino acids have to come from diet, because they can’t be synthesized by the body. Soy can be given to kids as a protein powder that’s mixed into liquid or blended into smoothies, but it also comes in a variety of forms that can be added to children’s food: soy milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy deli meats, soy nut butters, bean curd, miso, tofu and tempeh can be mixed into casseroles or pastas, sprinkled on pizza or salad, or spread on whole grain bread.
You can also increase your child’s protein intake by paying attention to the foods you serve. Healthy protein is found in meat products -- including lean beef, pork, chicken and fish -- as well as eggs, nuts, beans and dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt. To make eating protein more fun for kids, the website SuperHealthyKids.com, created by a Department of Health counselor, suggests coloring Easter-style hard-boiled eggs year-round; rolling ham around a pretzel stick and dipping it in low fat cheese; stacking meat and cheese between whole-grain crackers; or making healthy chicken fingers by rolling chicken breast strips in yogurt, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, and then baking them.