Many a parent has spent meal after meal trying to cajole her child into eating something healthy. Kids are notoriously picky eaters, and they shun entire food groups or foods of a certain color. Meat is an important part of a well-balanced diet for children because it contains several vital nutrients. Adding it to your child's meal plan helps prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies that could compromise his health.
Iron is a nutrient that children need for energy, as well as for growth and development. It carries oxygen through your child's blood to his internal organs. A lack of iron, such as in anemia, can result in fatigue and reduced immunity, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, from the National Institutes of Health. Children need 8 to 10 milligrams of iron each day. Meat and seafood are a prime source of iron, and serving meat or seafood to your child is a simple way to make sure he gets enough iron. Ground beef contains about 2 milligrams of iron per serving, chicken has about 1 milligram and most types of seafood contains between .5 and 1 milligram.
Protein plays a key role in your child's growth and development. Protein is also a source of energy. Meat is a healthy source of protein that supports your child's bones, muscles, blood, skin and hormones. Ten to 35 percent of your child's daily caloric intake should come from protein, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 3-ounce serving of most types of meat contains about 20 grams of protein, making it an easy way to help your child reach his protein intake goals.
Vitamin B12 is essential for your child's neurological development and cell growth, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. This nutrient is only available in animal foods, making meat an ideal way to ensure that your child gets the recommended daily 1.2 to 1.8 micrograms that he needs for good health. Salmon, trout and tuna contain between 2.5 and nearly 5 micrograms of vitamin B12 per serving. Beef contains about 1.5 micrograms and chicken weighs in with nearly 1 microgram.
Alternative Protein Sources
Meat is a good source of zinc and magnesium, which play a role in immunity and healthy bones in addition to its many other health benefits. However, if your child refuses to eat meat, replacing meat with alternatives is an important way to protect his health. Beans, when combined with rice, form a complete vegetable protein. Beans are high in protein and iron, making them an ideal meat substitute in burritos, tacos, chili and burgers. Look for foods that are fortified with iron and vitamin B12, such as cereal or bread, to increase your child's intake. Eggs and milk are also a good source of protein and vitamin B12. The best way to cover your child's nutritional needs is to serve a variety of foods from each food group. If you still worry that he may be lacking any nutrients, speak to your child's pediatrician about a supplement that could fill in any gaps in his nutritional intake.