How Much Protein Does a 2-Year-Old Need?

Protein is an essential nutrient for all children's growth and development. Here's how much protein your toddler should be eating.

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In my years as a pediatric dietitian, I have seen many concerned parents who were worried that their babies and picky toddlers weren't getting enough protein.

Protein, explains the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA), is a part of every single cell in the human body. It's vital for all growth and development, especially during childhood. Protein not only helps the body build cells and tissues, but it's also important for cellular repair and many different body processes, like the immune response, hormone production, and blood clotting.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also explains that protein is crucial for brain health in developing toddlers.

In short, everyone—especially kids—need protein in order to grow and develop. But it is possible to overdo it on protein. Here is your guide for how much protein a toddler needs.

How Much Protein Does a 2-Year-Old Need?

So how much protein does a two-year-old need? Overall, it might be less than you might expect.

Recommended Protein Levels for Toddlers

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends toddlers eat 2 servings of protein every day.
  • Two servings of protein for a toddler = around 200 calories.
  • Examples of protein sources that could fulfill a toddler's daily needs include: 1 egg, 2 ounces of cheese, or 4 tablespoons of lean ground beef.

The AAP also adds that toddlers don't really need as much protein as many parents think. A two-year-old, for instance, really only needs 2-4 ounces to meet their daily protein needs.

And if your child is drinking the recommended 12-24 ounces of whole milk every day at 2 years old, they are getting all the protein that they need. The AAP explains that 1 ounce of cow's milk = 1 gram of protein. Soy milk is also pretty equal to cow's milk for protein content.

Got Milk?

1 cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also explains that if your toddler is still drinking breast milk, their protein needs from solid food may be even less, as human milk contains protein.

However, the AAP does encourage the shift from breast milk to food in the toddler stage as your child's main source of nutrition.

Protein Sources for Toddlers

When solids are introduced and babies start drinking less formula or breast milk, it's time to incorporate more protein-rich sources into your toddler's diet.

Protein Foods for Toddlers

Here are some protein-rich foods the AAP recommends for toddlers:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Nut butters
  • Seed butters
  • Whole cow's milk
  • Yogurt
  • String cheese
  • Cubed cheese
  • Oatmeal
  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Peas
  • Broccoli

Bonus: High-protein foods like meat and beans also provide iron and zinc, which are nutrients of concern for breastfed babies.

Limit dairy to a one-half or one serving per day for babies and two to two-and-a-half servings per day for toddlers. One serving of dairy is 8 ounces of milk, 8 ounces of yogurt or 1.5 ounces of hard cheese. (Remember, cow's milk is not recommended for babies under 12 months of age.)

Many parents of toddlers will be relieved to know that 2 cups of dairy foods per day will cover about 120% of their protein needs.

Protein Sources in Toddler Foods

  • Milk and yogurt: 8 grams per cup
  • Cooked chicken: 8 grams per oz.
  • Egg: 7 grams
  • Cooked beans: 3 grams per 1/4 cup
  • Pasta : 7 grams per cup

Can Your Toddler Eat Too Much Protein?

While most parents understand the importance of protein for overall nutrition, I have started receiving more questions if there is such as thing as too much protein for toddlers.

While we still don't have lots of good research regarding the excess protein issue, a 2018 study did find a link between high dietary protein in the first 24 months of life and a higher risk of being overweight or obese later in life.

However, the study primarily found that the only type of protein associated with faster growth and risk for excess weight was dairy protein, found in many kinds of infant formula, milk, cheese, and yogurt. This seems to mean that excess protein from meat or vegetables is off the hook. Additionally, the research was not clear enough to prove a definitive link or say how much protein is "too" much protein.

In general, parents can focus on offering their toddlers well-balanced meals and snacks that include all the food groups with protein sources, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats.

Should I Be Worried About My Toddler Eating Enough Protein?

Chances are, there's no need to worry about your child getting too little protein unless they are a very selective eater and forgoing all dairy and other protein-rich foods.

Of course, if your doctor suggests that your baby or toddler needs some catch-up growth or requires more protein due to a medical condition, your medical team will put together a customized plan to ensure your toddler gets the nutrition they need for their own unique development.

Key Takeaways

  • Protein is crucial for babies and toddlers' development.
  • Toddlers need 2 servings of protein per day.
  • 1 ounce of cheese + 1 ounce of yogurt or 1 full egg provides a full day of protein for a toddler.
  • Some toddlers may need more protein for their growth and development, so talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have.

This is a guest post by Natalia Stasenko, MS, RD. Natalia is a pediatric dietitian and mother to three young daughters. Find her on Twitter.

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Protein Intake during the First Two Years of Life and Its Association with Growth and Risk of Overweight. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018. 

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