Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Protein (3)


STUDY: Teen Boys Eat More Protein Than They Need

Teenage boys are hungry. They eat a lot of food. And, it turns out, according to research reported in The New  York Times, teenage boys eat too much protein. What do the experts recommend?

Source: ronleishman/depositphotos.comThe answer probably won't surprise you. Teenage boys, like the rest of us, should eat more fruits and vegetables. Read The New York Times article

Last week I wrote about the Early Protein Hypothesis, which tries to explain the relationship between high protein intake in toddlers and later—at age 5— BMI and obesity risk. Read that post.


Most young children get more than enough protein from milk. Children 1-3 years old need about 13 grams of protein daily. Milk and yogurt contain 8 grams of protein per cup. Two cups=16 grams of protein.

So here's the question: Should parents avoid giving their kids protein if they're drinking milk?

Let me start by saying that I hate talking about food in terms of nutrients. It's a reductionist approach that doesn't usually help parents figure out how to feed their kids. It's the whole diet that matters and the overall pattern of eating that influences health.

Many, if not most, families enjoy other sources of protein--like meat and fish. So, that would lead to the conclusion that when/if your children are going to eat these foods, maybe less milk should be in their diet.

However, trying to pay attention to how much milk, how much meat, or how much anything your kids consume doesn't really work on a daily basis. No one really does it. And that's understandable.

Here's another way of thinking about this. Instead of worrying about protein (or consumption of any other nutrient), think about proportion. What foods dominate your kids' diets? The answer should be fruits and vegetables.

That's not to say that there isn't a place for everything else. Of course there is.

After proportion, work on variety. Variety means different not new. Make sure you serve different foods day-to-day and meal-to-meal.

The combination of proportion and variety produces a healthy diet. 

Habits matter. Similarly, if you replace protein with pasta (not a good idea) that habit matters too.

A few years ago, I wrote a post called The Snack as Mini-Meal Mistake. I argued that, rather than think of snacks as mini-meals, which often leads kids, at least where I live to snack on things like pizza, parents should teach their kids that fruits and vegetables are the go-to snack. Not every day, but most of the time.

I got a lot of pushback, especially from parents who were raising boys. They're too hungry, I was told. And I get it. Protein is much more filling than fruits and vegetables. But I'm not alone in this recommendation.

Dr. Perri Klass, the author of The New York Times article, recommends that teenage boys consume fiber-rich foods. And Dr. Marion Nestle is quoted as saying that teenagers should get more calories from vegetables, and fewer calories from meat.

Of course, teenage boys don't just eat large quantities of protein because it is filling. Some do it to bulk up. But that can be problematic too. The body can only absorb so much protein, but it can absorb all those extra calories just fine.

But getting mired in the argument about individual nutrients misses the point. I agree with Marion Nestle when she says, "To me, protein is a nonissue. You can't talk about protein in isolation from everything else people eat."

And that's the point. So stop stressing about nutrients and start thinking about the whole diet — about habits. Because, as these studies show, habits developed early in life, tend to stick around.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~  


STUDY: High Protein Intake Related to Weight Gain in Young Children

If you're a pediatrician you're probably familiar with the "Early Protein Hypothesis."

But if you're a parent, you're probably saying, "huh?"

The Early Protein Hypothesis tries to explain the relationship between high protein intake in toddlers and later BMI and obesity risk.

Yes, too much protein early in life can be a bad thing. Who knew? This research supplies yet more evidence that habits matter. Start your kids off early on too much protein and the impact probably won't be what you expect. 

The solution: Rather than focus on getting protein—or any particular nutrients—into your kids. Teach your children the three habits of healthy eating.

Most of the parents I encounter are concerned about getting enough protein into their children.

Source: prettyvectors /

Even when I tell them that most American children consume way more protein than they need.

I've had parents tell me that they don't care about the recommendations for protein intake because they know that you can never have too much.

Hey, we're Americans...bigger is always better!


Protein intake during the first 2 years of life that exceed 15% of total calories increases the risk of increased weight gain.

The Institute of Medicine recommends:

  • Children 7-12 months consume 11 grams of protein daily
  • Children 1-3 years old need about 13 grams of protein daily 
  • Children 4-8 years old need about 19 grams of protein daily

Protein intake from animals and particularly dairy, compared to plant protein, seems to be particularly problematic. According to the American Society for Nutrition:

"[I]t is prudent to avoid excessive intakes of animal protein in young children from milk and from complementary and family foods, because intakes far above requirements have no known benefit but carry a possible risk." 

Two cups of milk provide more protein than young children need.

  • Milk and yogurt contain 8 grams of protein per cup. Two cups=16 grams of protein; more than anyone under 3 needs to consume.
  • If your children drink milk, they don't need any more protein.
  • And if your children don't drink milk, they can grow up just fine. Read Got Milk? Some Say You Don't Need It. 

Now there's research showing that teen boys consume way too much protein. More on that later.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Koletzko, B., H. Demmelmair, V. Grote, C. Prell, and M. Weber. 2016. “High Protein Intake in Young Children and Increased Weight Gain and Obesity Risk.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. First published ahead of print January 20, 2016 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.128009.


Kid Eats Q&A: How can I get my son to eat meat?

Thanks to Gail who sent me this question.

I have a four-year-old with a unique eating "problem." He refuses to eat meat, eggs or fish. He will eat the occasional slice of pepperoni, but that is not really what I am after. He does eat peanut butter and dairy (probably way too much) and will eat a bean or some hummus on occasion. He loves fruit and veggies--everything from kale and nori to carrots and peas. We are concerned that he does not get enough protein.

Unlike fruits and vegetables, which most parents stress about getting into their kids, your son can have a perfectly healthy life not eating meat, fish and eggs.  Many people do, all over the world.

What's more, anything you do to try to convince your son to eat these items is likely to backfire.

Here's what I suggest:

  • Talk to your son about the foods he doesn't like so you can figure out his objections. If you discover that texture is the problem you can try cutting, shredding or mincing the meat.  If you discover that your son finds meat difficult to chew, you can put it into soups and stews.  Read Nix the Negativity for a list of prompts you can use to get the discussion going.
  • Encourage your son to explore new foods frequently so that trying foods becomes a habit, and then make sure you rotate the objectionable foods into the rotation from time-to-time. Read Collect Clues & Eliminate the New-Food-Blues.
  • Stop worrying about protein.  Your son doesn't need as much as you think.  What's more, although meat is a great source of protein, it is also a great source of fat, much of it saturated.

It goes against our national obsession with nutrition to advise letting the protein issue go, but that is exactly what I recommend.

I can tell from the description of your son’s eating habits that he’s doing just fine.  And not just in the protein-department. The habits he’s got going—lots of fruits and vegetables—will serve him well for a lifetime of healthy eating. Remember, a plant-based diet is best.

But I don’t blame you for being concerned about your son’s protein consumption.  Our cultural obsession with nutrition (as opposed to with eating right…that entails thinking about food, not nutrients) forces parents to dig deep into their children’s plates to see how they’re eating.  That's how we parents get obsessed with calcium. Read Don't Have a Cow!

Most Americans eat more protein than they need. 

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with what I’ve written.  One woman once told me that she served her children double the recommended amount of protein because she thought the government was under-bidding this one.

Lots of people must agree with her.  Surveys show:

  • The average American woman (120 pounds) needs 55 grams of protein per day but consumes about 70 grams.
  • The average American man (180 pounds) needs 65 grams of protein per day but consumes about 100 grams.

If you get enough calories you’ll get enough protein. 

That's not my opinion.  That's the opinion of nutrition expert Marion Nestle.

That means if your son eats a variety of real foods, including lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, he’ll be in great shape nutritionally. 

It is hard to know exactly how much protein your son needs, but we can come up with some ballpark figures.

According to Marion Nestle you need about half a gram of protein for every pound you weigh. 

  • If your 4 year old weighs 35 pounds (around the 50th percentile), then he needs an average of 17-18 grams of protein each day.

The USDA recommends slightly more. 

  • The USDA suggest 4-5 year olds take in 3-4 ounces of meat and/or beans.  Four ounces of cooked beef, poultry or pork provides roughly 20-30 grams of protein.

Really active athletes need even more protein, but I’m assuming your 4 year old isn’t training for a triathlon.

The good news is that no matter which amount you decide is “correct,” these protein goals are pretty easy to attain.

  • One cup of milk (8 ounces) delivers 8 grams of protein.
  • One cup of Fage Greek Yogurt contains 20 grams of protein.

Want to cut back on the dairy?  Give your son a peanut butter sandwich.

Or how about this:

Think of the above menu as all the foods your son could consume during one day and the numbers go through the roof: 58 grams.

There is protein in just about everything.

  • A cup of cooked pasta (plain)=7 grams
  • 1 sweet potato=2 grams.
  • 1 tomato=1 gram
  • 1 banana=1 gram

You get my point. 

Feeding kids is challenging work, especially when you try to track nutrients.

That's why I advocate focusing on habits instead.  Fill your son up with real foods (like you're doing) and you can be sure you'll be filling him up with protein (and calcium, fiber...) too.  You'll also be teaching your son habits for a liftetime of healthy eating!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~



Bricklin, M., 1992. Prevention Magazine's Nutrition Advisor: the Ultimate Guide to the Health-Boosting and Health-Harming Factors in Your Diet. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, Inc.

Nestle, M., 2006. What to Eat. New York: North Point Press. Pp 143-144