Proteins are important building blocks for a growing child. They are required for growth, maintenance and repair of body tissues. Different kinds of specialized proteins also perform many important functions like carrying oxygen in our cells and fighting infections. In a recent Ask the Expert column, dietitian Emma Stirling wrote about protein power and offered tips on getting enough protein in your child’s diet. Children 1-3 years old need about 0.5 g of protein per pound of body weight, which comes to about 13-16 g of daily protein. In most cases, it is not a problem to get this much from a typical American diet. But if you have a picky eater, or if you are following a strict vegetarian diet, you need to pay a little extra attention to your child’s protein needs.
In this week’s Five for Fridays, I want to highlight 5 vegetarian sources of proteins. We routinely include them in our meals using many of our simple recipes. Even if you are not a strict vegetarian, you can try them occasionally to bring variety to your diet.
Lentils are dry seeds of a pulse crop. They are rich in protein, iron, dietary fiber and B vitamins. More importantly, they are rich in the essential amino acids (there are 9 essential amino acids our body cannot produce). Sprouted lentils provide all of the 9 amino acids. On a 100 g dry weight basis, lentils provide 26 g of protein! Just like whole grains, soaking lentils in water removes phytates which allows better mineral absorption in the GI tract.
One of our favorite recipes is a lentil soup which we often eat with basmati rice.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, have been around for a long time! You will find them in almost any cuisine around the world, especially in the Middle East, Mediterranean and South East Asia. They are super rich in protein, vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.
Here is one of our recipes with beef and chickpeas. There are many different ways to cook chickpeas without any meat.
Red Kidney Beans
There are many different types of beans, but our favorite are red kidney beans. They provide a lot of protein, iron, calcium, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Soaking them in water overnight reduces cooking time and removes complex sugars that would otherwise cause indigestion and gas.
Red kidney beans with olive oil is one of our favorite recipes.
Unlike vegetables, nuts are actually dried fruit. If your child does not have any allergies to nuts, they can offer a good balance of calories from fat, carbs and proteins. Our favorites are almonds, walnuts, pecans and hazelnut. We like to soak almonds overnight in water then peel the skin off before eating the soft white core. We use walnuts in salads and pecans in some of our recipes like the steak and vegetables with pecans casserole. Nuts also provide healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids.
We discovered quinoa not too long ago, and since then it has taken up a regular place in our kitchen cabinets. Quinoa is really the unrecognized superfood because it is not so common in America. It is beginning to be more available now in some stores, so check it out! It is low in glycemic index, and although it is not a grain, it can be a nice replacement to rice with your entree. It is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
One of our favorite recipe is chicken with quinoa. And for the strictly vegetarian, here is our quinoa with vegetables.
Enjoy these recipes and let me know what is on your mind!