Protein in Weaning: What Should I Absolutely Avoid?

Are you wondering how to choose and dose protein in weaning? In this article, we discuss what protein is, what protein to give to babies, how to replace meat for babies, how often to give it during weaning, and how much protein to give to babies in weaning.

What is protein?

Proteins represent an essential element of our diet.

They are a group of nutrients (along with lipids and carbohydrates) found in many foods, of animal and plant origin.

They are chemically made up of a scaffold of building blocks, the amino acids, linked together through a specific bond, called a peptide bond.

Proteins, in the human body, have several functions:

  • enzymatic function
  • of transport
  • defense
  • structural

Protein in weaning sources can be found, above all, in foods such as meat (beef, pork and sheep) and legumes (chickpeas, beans, lentils, chickling peas, lupins, broad beans, peas), but also in smaller percentages in eggs, fish and dairy products.

What protein in weaning?

Children go through different stages of growth, and protein intake changes along with these stages.

According to SIP (Italian Society of Pediatrics) pediatricians, in accordance with the Reference Intake Levels of Nutrients and Energy (LARNs), protein intake should represent a range, which, under three years of age, corresponds to (8-15)% of total energy.

Above three years of age, the range increases to (12-18)%.

The World Health Organization has also drawn up precise guidelines on how much protein in weaning to provide, and therefore 40 grams daily should not be exceeded.

In detail: the estimated protein requirement is 1.4 grams per kg of body weight at 6 months of age, 1.2 grams at 12 months, one gram at 18-24 months, and 0.9 grams at 3-5 years, 0.9 to 1.1 in later years.

Here are the data organized in a table:

Age (years)Protein Requirement (grams/kg of body weight)
6 months1.4
12 months1.2
18-24 months1.0
3-5 years0.9
6+ years0.9 – 1.1

To guide us, it’s possible to provide a good weekly distribution of the protein intake from its main sources (meat, legumes, fish, eggs, and cheeses), recommending eating at least four servings of legumes per week and not exceeding animal products, while varying the proposals as much as possible in terms of taste and consistency.

What to eat to introduce protein in weaning?

Meat, both white and red, represents, historically, one of the most recognized sources of protein, and in a hypothetical menu, weekly, it is advisable to introduce it no more than three times (twice white meat and once red meat).

To date, plant proteins should be the preferred protein source (to promote a lower environmental impact and the introduction of essential amino acids).

In fact, a protein intake, exclusively plant-based, of at least four times a week would be advisable.

Legumes are rich in essential amino acids (those that our body cannot synthesize) such as valine, isoleucine, leucine, threonine, tryptophan (a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin, recognized for its role in mood tone) and fiber, which, when properly combined with complex carbohydrates, represent a nutritionally and environmentally complete one-pot meal.

protein in weaning

How often meat as a weaning protein?

Parents are often faced with the challenge of when to offer meat and especially how to offer it: whether in chunks or in smooth cream (homogenized) form.

Weaning, whether classic or self-weaning, has precise rules to ensure that it is started in the right way:

  • wait for the baby’s timing
  • having a correct and strong sitting position
  • loss of the extrusion reflex
  • interest in food
  • Meat can be offered right away, and even if our little ones do not actually eat it, they may play with it, discovering its textures and flavor.

The caution, I feel, from the very beginning is to propose only one protein (whether animal or vegetable) per meal.

Let’s take a practical example: a 10-month-old baby, with weaning already started (either classic or self-weaning), should introduce one protein at each meal.

This helpful guide can provide you with some orientation guidelines.

Protein TypeProductsFrequency
Plant-based proteins (legumes)Chickpeas, lentils, beans, broad beans, peas, grass pea, lupinsFour times a week
Animal-derived products: dairyCheeses (Parmesan, soft cheese, mozzarella, Robiola)Two/three times a week
Animal proteins: meatWhite meat (chicken), red meat (beef, pork)Two times white meat, one time red meat
Animal-derived products: eggsEggOnce a week
Fish and derivativesFinfish, crustaceans, and mollusks3 times a week

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SOURCES

Società Italiana di Nutrizione Umana, LARN, available here: https://sinu.it/2019/07/09/proteine/

About the Author

Simona Scagli - Nutritionist