Do kids really need to eat protein-enriched snacks? We asked dietitians

Protein constitutes a crucial component of a child’s diet, leading many parents to consider products advertised as being enriched with additional protein. Some muesli bars, for instance, are marketed as “protein bars” and may contain ingredients like soy protein or milk powder. However, it’s worth questioning whether children truly require this “extra” protein and if protein-infused foods or supplements, such as powders, are the optimal means of obtaining it.

Aussie children typically meet their protein needs

Evangeline Mantzioris, the program director of the nutrition and food sciences degree at the University of South Australia, emphasizes that most healthy Australian children already consume more protein than necessary. For instance, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals that boys aged nine to 13, requiring 40 grams of protein daily, consume around 86 grams per day, while girls in the same age group, needing 35 grams, consume approximately 73 grams. Dr. Mantzioris, also an accredited practicing dietitian, asserts that most healthy children obtain adequate protein from their diets without requiring additional sources. She notes that children with chronic conditions may have difficulty meeting their protein needs, but their dietary requirements are typically managed in consultation with healthcare professionals rather than based on marketing claims.

Potential displacement of essential foods

Despite children’s tendency to consume excess protein, Clare Dix, an accredited practicing dietitian and principal project officer at the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at the University of Queensland, warns against the overconsumption of protein, which can displace other essential food groups like vegetables and fruits. Dr. Dix emphasizes that children often prefer protein-rich foods due to their palatability, which may lead them to overlook nutrient-rich options like vegetables. While protein-infused snacks aren’t inherently harmful, Dr. Dix cautions that they may cause children to consume less diverse diets, potentially missing out on vital nutrients.

Rare scenarios warranting additional protein

Are protein-infused foods or supplements ever necessary for healthy children? Both experts agree that certain circumstances may justify short-term use, such as with picky eaters or children with sensory processing issues. For instance, children with difficulties chewing or swallowing may benefit from protein supplements under the guidance of healthcare professionals. However, Dr. Mantzioris emphasizes the importance of exploring alternative dietary strategies before resorting to protein supplementation. She underscores the value of obtaining protein from whole foods, suggesting alternatives like chicken or fish for children averse to red meat or incorporating sushi rolls for those hesitant about fish with bones.

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