What to Do When Your Child Won't Eat Meat

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Mealtime, Dear Karla

Dear Karla, I am the parent of a 4-year-old daughter who refuses to eat meat. This began when she was about 11 months of age. No matter how I serve it up and how fun I make the dish, she just will not eat any meat from any animal. I am concerned that she's not getting enough protein in her diet. Do you have any suggestions to help me out?

That is a great question Suzanne, and is a shared concern by many parents I work with. It is not surprising that it began just before 12 months of age, as this is a time of new food introduction and textures. One big reason young children do not prefer meat is due to its texture. Animal proteins require more chewing than other sources of protein and can also be drier than many other items the child has grown accustomed to.

If you do want to continue serving and encourage animal meat, the main rules of thumb you should apply are: serve smaller pieces, don't over-cook, and try to serve with some type of liquid or healthy sauce.Common strategies I suggest are to serve ground meat in soups, stews or casserole dishes. These dishes have more moisture than a normal chicken breast and make the meat much softer to your child's gums.

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for protein are based on the body weight and age of the individual.

  • For children 1-3 years of age it is 0.55 grams protein per pound body weight
  • For children 4-6 years of age it is 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  • For children 7-14 years of age it is 0.45 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  • For boys 15-18 years of age it is 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  • For girls 15-18 years of age it is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Here is an example for children of a healthy weight, following their normal growth curve:

  • Children ages 1-3 = 13 grams of protein
  • Children ages 4-8 = 19 grams of protein
  • Children ages 9-13 = 34 grams of protein
  • Girls 15-18 = 46 grams of protein
  • Boys 15-18 = 52 grams of protein

Here are some other foods that act as great sources of protein.
  • 1/2 egg whites = 13g protein
  • 1 cup skim/1%/2% milk = 9g protein
  • 1/2 cup beans (lima, kidney etc) = 7g protein
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa = 5g protein
  • 125g yogurt = 4g protein
  • 1/2 cup hummus = 5g protein
Remember, it does not take much to have the protein value add up quickly. One glass of milk and one egg white already bring you to 12 grams, which is just short of the daily recommended amount for preschoolers. I would suggest using hummus as a spread on crackers, breads and even vegetables as this is an excellent vegetable protein. When cooking quinoa, add some green peas and egg whites to boost the protein value.

What are your tips on getting more protein into your youngster? Please feel free to share them in the comments.

Karla Heintz is a Nutrition Educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition. If you have questions you would like answered please comment with them below. Thanks!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.