Child and Adult Care Food Program


Protein is essential for growth. Protein is used to build new blood, bone and muscles. Because children are growing, their protein needs are higher for their body size than adults. Following age appropriate food patterns will assure that the children in your care will be getting adequate amounts of protein.

Although breads, cereals, grains and some vegetables provide small amounts of protein, the main sources of protein are in meat and meat alternates and dairy products.

Good Sources of Protein from Each Meal Component

Bread / Bread Alternates Meat / Meat Alternates Milk Fruits Vegetables
Not a good source of protein
  • Beef
  • Cheese
  • Dried beans
  • Dried peas
  • Dried lentils
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Yogurt
  • Skim milk
  • Low-fat milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Chocolate milk
  • Whole milk
Not a source of protein
  • Dried beans
  • Dried lentils
  • Dried peas

Vegetarian diets can supply adequate protein when milk and dairy products, eggs, fish, beans, and/or nuts are included. The day care can make appropriate substitutions of meat alternates for meats to provide adequate protein. Occasionally, a child in day care will be following a purely vegetarian diet because of family culture or beliefs. In these cases, there is a danger that the child will not eat enough calories or protein. It is advisable to consult with a registered dietitian or physician for advice on proper meal planning for the child who is following a strict vegetarian diet.

It is common for preschool children to go through a phase of rejecting meats. Often the reason is that the meat is tough and difficult to chew. This is why young children often prefer cheese, hot dogs, or bologna to other meats. These foods are soft and easy to chew. Beans, eggs, or ground meats can help to address this need for soft foods without having to rely on processed meats and cheeses too often. In addition, it is helpful to remember that meat portions for preschool children are quite small - 1/2 to 1 1/2 ounces - so, what may appear to be a meager portion may actually meet the child's needs.

Sample STEPs to Assuring Adequate Protein Intake

Strategy: Review and revise menus to include one main dish per week prepared with dried beans. Options include chili with beans, bean burritos, bean, pea or lentil soups, red or black beans and rice, or simply black eyed peas or pinto beans.

Teaching children: In a window sill garden, allow the children to plant beans and observe them as they develop into plants. Discuss with the children how the beans store food to help the plant grow in the same way that they can grow when they eat the beans.

Educating families: In communications with families, inform them of the menu changes and the reasons for including more beans on the menu. Be sure to cover these points:

  • Beans are soft and easy for preschoolers to chew
  • Beans are good alternates for meats because they provide protein and iron
  • Beans are naturally low in fat and high in fiber
  • Beans are an economical source of protein. Using beans on the menu allows the day care to serve more expensive meats on other days.

Planning for change: At a staff meeting, review the strategy and reasons for including more beans on the menu. Allow staff members to suggest dishes to be considered for the menu. Have staff members taste test new bean recipes.

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