Powerful Proteins

September 24, 2014

When people think of protein, they often think of meat such as beef, pork, lamb, and poultry as well as seafood and eggs. However, for all those Meatless Monday goers out there, the protein food group has plenty of vegetarian options spanning beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and processed soy products (e.g., tofu).

As with all the food groups, recommended amounts differ by age and physical activity level. See below for daily recommendations.

  • Children 2 to 3 years old – 2 ounce equivalents
  • Children 4 to 8 years old – 4 ounce equivalents
  • Girls 9 to 18 years old – 5 ounce equivalents
  • Boys 9 to 13 years old – 5 ounce equivalents
  • Boys 14 to 18 years old – 6.5 ounce equivalents

One ounce equivalents translate into 1 ounce of meat/poultry/fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon peanut butter or ½ ounce nuts/seeds. To put things in perspective, a small chicken breast the size of a deck of cards equals 3 ounce equivalents and one small lean hamburger equals between 2 and 3 ounce equivalents. For a detailed listing of equivalents, click here.

Some helpful tips

Go lean – Aim to select lean meats when at the store. For ground beef, that equals 90% lean meat/10% fat. Other great options to reduce fat content even more are ground turkey and chicken. They make great substitutions for meatballs and burgers, just to name a few. As winter approaches, get that slow cooker ready – it is a great appliance that preserves the juiciness of leaner meats and prevents dryness. Classic slow cooker recipes such as chili are nutrition powerhouses because you can add beans to amp up protein content even more!

Pass the sodium – Processed meats are notorious for containing excessive amounts of sodium, think ham and salami. The next time you’re packing school lunch, try substituting with some fresh cooked turkey or chicken. Nuts are another sodium-laden offender. Varieties often span raw, roasted, and/or salted. Raw or dry roasted nuts are by far the best choice because they are sodium free. Anything packaged likely has sodium in it, so it’s important to be mindful and choose reduced sodium or sodium free options.

Gone fishin’ – Fish is a great protein source we simply don’t eat enough of. While your kids may love fish sticks, try introducing baked fish options into your weekly routine. To ease them into the new preparation method, add breadcrumbs for some crunch.

We love protein because it keeps us fuller longer. So remember, the next time you’re planning meals, make sure you have a protein component. If it’s lacking, try adding one in as a snack between meals.

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