Raising Superkids: A Guide to High-Protein & Meals They’ll Love

Do you know of parents who allow their children to watch whatever they want on television or YouTube, listen to whatever they want on Spotify, have access to uncensored social media, or play whatever twisted video games they’d like? Does the idea of kids growing up in such an environment turn your stomach like it turns mine? A good parent understands their responsibilities in protecting their kids from things they shouldn’t see and hearing things they shouldn’t hear. They embrace their responsibility to help shape their kids’ minds. 

But what about their bodies? When it comes to food, why do children get to make the choices so often? Why is it that the junk marketed to kids and destroys their physical health isn’t seen in the same light as the junk they can see and hear that destroys their mental health?

It could be because we trust food companies and the packaging too much. We may believe that if it’s on a store shelf, it’s safe; if it isn’t, it would be behind the counter or have a rating like a video game intended only for mature audiences. 

I don’t know what makes us think that what they put in their mouths matters much less than what they see and hear, but we do. And the effects are devastating.

Devastating Effects of Children’s Diets

The staggering increase in diet-related diseases and conditions among children and young adults underscores the gravity of this nutritional crisis. Recent data reveals alarming trends:

  • ADHD: A rise of 42% in ADHD diagnoses over the past eight years, with studies linking high sugar intake to behavioral and attention problems.1Bocarsly, M. E., et al. (2015). High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 97(1), 101-106.
  • Obesity: Childhood obesity rates have tripled since the 1970s, contributing to lifelong health issues.2Fryar, C. D., et al. (2018). Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS Data Brief, No. 288.
  • Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes in youth has increased manifold, with poor diet playing a critical role in the onset of the disease.3Mayer-Davis, E. J., et al. (2017). Incidence Trends of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes among Youths, 2002–2012. New England Journal of Medicine, 376(15), 1419-1429.
  • Depression and Anxiety: A 2018 review found a significant relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.4O’Neil, A., et al. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. The American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), e31–e42.

These sobering statistics are more than mere numbers; they represent a generation grappling with the consequences of nutritional missteps, many of which begin at the breakfast table. The connection between what goes on the plate and how a child performs in school, feels throughout the day, and even how they think, cannot be overlooked.

This article sheds light on why a shift towards a higher protein diet and reduced carbohydrate intake is not just a trendy nutritional fad but a crucial step towards safeguarding our children’s future. By understanding how these macronutrients interact with our children’s growing bodies and developing brains, we can provide them with the tools they need to thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Read also: Treating Kids With Obesity Drugs and Bariatric Surgery.

Downfalls of High-Carbohydrate Breakfasts

Breakfast is called the most important meal of the day, but if you’re serving up a platter of energy crashes, that doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Energy Rollercoasters

High-carb breakfasts, such as sugary cereals, pastries, and pancakes, provide a quick burst of energy followed by a blood sugar plummet that leaves children feeling fatigued and irritable.5Hoyland, A., Dye, L., & Lawton, C. L. (2009). A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutrition Research Reviews, 22(2), 220-243. Unfortunately, many kids finish eating breakfast like this and head to school, hoping to learn something. But if their brains don’t function well, what’s the likelihood that’ll happen?

Malfunctioning Brains

The brain’s primary fuel is glucose, but that doesn’t mean we should pump children full of sugars and refined carbs. Excessive carbs at breakfast can impair memory, attention, and cognitive function, leading to poorer performance in school.6Micha, R., Peñalvo, J. L., Cudhea, F., Imamura, F., Rehm, C. D., & Mozaffarian, D. (2017). Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes Inverse Association Between Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(3), 673–681.

Childhood Weight Gain

It’s no secret that obesity is a growing concern, and developing the habit of eating high-carb breakfasts early in life certainly contributes to the problem. These breakfast choices can lead to overeating later in the day, contributing to childhood obesity, which carries significant health risks, including cardiovascular disease.7Kumar, S., & Kelly, A. S. (2017). Review of Childhood Obesity: From Epidemiology, Etiology, and Comorbidities to Clinical Assessment and Treatment. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92(2), 251-265.

Carbs are Sugar When It Comes to Breakfast Foods

Just because a breakfast food doesn’t contain much sugar, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for kids (or adults). Processed carbohydrates, like those in cereal, waffles, pancakes, toast, and other carbohydrate-rich breakfast items spike blood sugar and cause mental havoc like eating sugary options would. So, just to be clear, here’s the reality surrounding popular breakfast choices:

  • Cereals and Juices: A sugary cereal with a side of fruit juice is like a sugar rush waiting to crash. Don’t be fooled by the idea that fruit juice contains some vitamins. It is not good for you.
  • Bagels and Muffins: These may seem wholesome, but they often pack more carbs than a child’s brain and body need.
  • Pancakes and Waffles: Smothered in syrup, these breakfast favorites are often more dessert than a nutritious start to the day.

There’s no doubt that breakfast can significantly impact your day. Unfortunately, it’s a significantly detrimental impact on much of the population, kids included. That leads us to why starting the day with protein is so important.

Benefits of a Higher Protein Diet: A Critical Perspective

Protein is the most essential macronutrient in the human diet. It’s also the most neglected in adults and children alike.

Supports for Muscle and Tissue Growth

Children’s bodies are in a constant state of growth and development. Protein, a vital building block of muscles and tissues, must be at the core of their nutritional intake.8Hoffer, L. J. (2012). Human Protein and Amino Acid Requirements. JPEN Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 40(4), 460–474. Without adequate protein, children’s physical development may suffer, leading to weakened muscles and a future where physical activity becomes a struggle.

Enhances Mental Clarity and Focus

The implications of poor dietary choices are not confined to the body alone. The nutrients children consume heavily influence cognitive function, memory, and concentration.9Leidy, H. J., et al. (2015). Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, “breakfast-skipping,” late-adolescent girls. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), 677–688. A lack of protein can cloud the mind and impair learning, potentially hindering academic progress and future success.

Weight Management

Childhood obesity is more than a phase; it’s a dangerous path that could set the stage for lifelong health struggles. Protein’s role in controlling appetite and promoting feelings of fullness is essential in helping children maintain a healthy weight.10Paddon-Jones, D., et al. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(5), 1558S-1561S.

Will some kids grow out of their “chubby stage?” Sure. But some don’t. If their diets contribute to that chubbiness, why risk their weight gain becoming a lifelong issue? Ignoring protein’s importance could be a slippery slope into poor health and chronic conditions.

Balanced Blood Sugar Levels

The high sugar content in typical breakfast foods can lead to erratic energy levels and troubling behavior in children.11Blom, W. A., et al. (2006). Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(2), 211–220. Replacing these with protein-rich options can stabilize blood sugar, creating a more balanced and focused child. Ignoring this can contribute to a generation more accustomed to energy crashes than steady growth.

In the face of alarming health trends, embracing a higher protein diet is not a mere option; it’s an urgent necessity. It’s about crafting a future where our children are not just surviving but thriving, where potential is nurtured, not neglected. The stakes are high, and the choices we make today will shape our children’s tomorrows.

Practical Advice and Recipe Ideas

If a child has grown up on a typical carb-heavy diet, he or she has developed a palate for that type of food. So, you have to expect they’ll push back on eating healthier food. That’s why starting them on a healthy diet early in life is so important.

That said, if you now understand how detrimental their current diet is, you can’t let a little pushback keep you from making changes. After all, as a parent, you’re responsible for their future physical health.

If a child has eaten cereal for years, getting him or her to eat an omelet tomorrow morning might not work. Instead, you might need to start with cereal and a protein bar, or a protein shake, or a high-protein waffle. Over time, you can slowly wean them off the cereal and move them toward eggs instead.

A Practical Approach to Higher-Protein Diets

You know how important a child’s diet is. You also know that regularly eating diets consisting mainly of carbs is harmful to their mental and physical health. You also know that you could face some resistance if you start making changes to their diets. You are the parent, and parenting is tough sometimes. So, you might need to accept the resistance and start making small changes right now.

Teaching children about the importance of protein and allowing them to participate in meal planning can foster lifelong healthy eating habits. Knowledge is power; in this case, it’s the power to choose health.

Meal Ideas

To help you start down the path of getting your kids more nutritious foods, I’ve outlined 20 high-protein meal ideas you could try starting today.

Breakfast Options:

  1. Egg and Spinach Muffins
    • Protein: 12g
    • Carbs: 3g
    • Recipe: Whisk eggs with spinach, cheese, and bake in muffin tins.
  2. Protein Pancakes
    • Protein: 18g
    • Carbs: 10g
    • Recipe: Blend oats, cottage cheese, eggs, and protein powder.
  3. Greek Yogurt Parfait
    • Protein: 15g
    • Carbs: 8g
    • Recipe: Layer Greek yogurt with nuts and berries.
  4. Ham and Egg Breakfast Cups
    • Protein: 14g
    • Carbs: 2g
    • Recipe: Line muffin tins with ham, add eggs, and bake.
  5. Almond Butter Protein Smoothie
    • Protein: 20g
    • Carbs: 12g
    • Recipe: Blend almond butter, protein powder, and almond milk.
  6. Cheese and Sausage Breakfast Casserole
    • Protein: 16g
    • Carbs: 5g
    • Recipe: Mix sausage, cheese, eggs, and bake in a casserole dish.
  7. Chicken Sausage Breakfast Skillet
    • Protein: 18g
    • Carbs: 6g
    • Recipe: Sauté chicken sausage, eggs, and vegetables.
  8. Low-Carb Breakfast Burrito
    • Protein: 20g
    • Carbs: 10g
    • Recipe: Wrap scrambled eggs, cheese, and turkey bacon in lettuce.
  9. Bacon and Egg Stuffed Avocado
    • Protein: 10g
    • Carbs: 8g
    • Recipe: Halve an avocado, remove seed, add egg and bacon, bake.
  10. Strawberry Protein Shake
  • Protein: 25g
  • Carbs: 12g
  • Recipe: Blend strawberries, protein powder, and ice.

Lunch or Dinner Options:

  1. Grilled Chicken Skewers
  • Protein: 30g
  • Carbs: 5g
  • Recipe: Grill marinated chicken on skewers with vegetables.
  1. Turkey Meatballs
  • Protein: 20g
  • Carbs: 7g
  • Recipe: Mix ground turkey, herbs, bake, and serve with marinara.
  1. Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry
  • Protein: 28g
  • Carbs: 10g
  • Recipe: Stir-fry beef strips and broccoli in soy sauce.
  1. Salmon and Asparagus
  • Protein: 25g
  • Carbs: 4g
  • Recipe: Bake salmon with asparagus, lemon, and herbs.
  1. Cheesy Cauliflower Pizza
  • Protein: 12g
  • Carbs: 10g
  • Recipe: Make a cauliflower crust, top with cheese and meat.
  1. Stuffed Bell Peppers
  • Protein: 18g
  • Carbs: 8g
  • Recipe: Fill bell peppers with meat, cheese, and bake.
  1. Shrimp and Zucchini Noodles
  • Protein: 24g
  • Carbs: 6g
  • Recipe: Sauté shrimp, toss with zucchini noodles, and pesto.
  1. Chicken and Avocado Salad
  • Protein: 22g
  • Carbs: 8g
  • Recipe: Mix grilled chicken, avocado, greens, and vinaigrette.
  1. Baked Cod with Lemon
  • Protein: 20g
  • Carbs: 2g
  • Recipe: Bake cod with lemon, garlic, and herbs.
  1. Taco Lettuce Wraps
  • Protein: 18g
  • Carbs: 4g
  • Recipe: Fill lettuce leaves with taco-seasoned meat and cheese.

You might also consider buying high-protein, low-carb protein bars like those produced by Kirkland, Quest, or Legendary. Kids often feel like they’re getting a sweet treat with these bars, but they’re actually getting a great dose of protein and minimal carbs or sugar.

Photo by Providence Doucet on Unsplash