If I don’t feed my children meat, where are they going to get the protein they need?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

There are two primary sources of protein, animals and plants. Plant source include legumes and grains. The major concern with the avoidance of animal proteins has been the loss of complete amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids in meat protein, and no single plant product delivers a complete protein. However, by eating combinations of vegetables and grains, you can provide the equivalent protein that is found in meat. For instance, rice and beans eaten together, whole wheat bread with hummus (chick-pea spread), or even rice cakes with a spoonful of almond butter will provide as complete a protein as beef. It’s not important that you eat all the essential amino acids in one meal. You can spread out your intake throughout the day.

It’s important for you to understand how much protein we actually need: much less than most of us eat. On an average day, a child is given three times the amount of protein necessary for growth. The correct ratio is about one gram of protein per pound of body weight during the first year of life. This drops to about half a gram of protein per pound in the second through fifteenth year. There are 28 grams to an ounce so we’re not talking about very much in volume. If you weigh 135 pounds, you need only 2 ½ ounces of protein a day!

Where do you get this protein? Right from your cupboards. Grains, cereals, pastas, tofu and beans are all excellent sources of protein. As I’ve said, soybeans, from which tofu is made, provide the most complete of the plant proteins. A stir-fry meal made with tofu, instead of meat, and served on a bed of natural brown rice will provide plenty of good protein for children and adults.

Another good source of protein is a good, grainy pasta. Pasta dishes are universal favorites for children. Try making lasagna with tofu instead of ricotta cheese or stuff whole wheat pasta shells with spinach and tofu, cover them with a fresh tomato sauce and bake the shells in the oven.

Legumes are another excellent source of protein. Meatless chili, hummus on pita bread, or almost butter on whole grains bread will supply your children with adequate protein as well as healthful fiber.

In any good bookstore, you can find booklets that will give you the protein, cholesterol, carbohydrate, fat, and sodium breakdowns of almost any food you could want to serve.

The list below shows the percentage of protein that each type of food contains. Here is a general guide to help you reach your nutritional goals for yourself and your family. Look to vegetables and grains as sources of carbohydrates. Legumes provide protein and carbohydrates. Nuts are a source of protein but usually contain so much fat that this outweighs the protein benefit. Meats and milk supply protein and fat. However, I am not recommending dairy or meat products.

Vegetables Legumes/Nuts
Brussels Sprouts 16% Almonds 12%
Cabbage 17% Kidney Beans 26%
Carrots 10% Peanuts 18%
Corn 12% Tofu (soybeans) 34%
Potatoes 11%
Tomatoes 16%
Grains Meat/Fish/Poultry
Bread (whole wheat) 16% Eggs 33%
Brown Rice 8% Lobster 88%
Oatmeal 16% Pork 42%
Spaghetti (whole wheat) 14% Turkey 68%
Beef 26%
Chicken 61%
Breast Milk 5%
Cow’s Milk 21%