9 Best Proteins for Baby's Growth and Development

Author Image Katie Thomson MS, RD | Cofounder

9 Best Proteins for Baby's Growth and Development

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When your baby is ready to start solids, it's important to support their growth and development by providing foods high in protein. 

It's important to note, while breastmilk and/or formula provides the majority of nutrients until 12 months of age, you can start incorporating complementary foods (starting at 4-6 months of age) to your baby. Introducing solid foods in your baby's diet opens the door to new and exciting protein sources including new flavors and textures.

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    Protein Requirements

    It depends. The protein requirements can range from 11-14g of protein per day, depending on your infant's age and growth requirement. Younger babies 12 months of age and younger will need closer to 11g of protein per day while toddlers up until 4 years will need closer to 14g of protein per day.

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    Introducing Protein to Baby: What to Consider

    Before introducing solids, it's important to stay mindful of: protein quality, available protein alternatives, and texture of different proteins.

    Why is Protein Important?:

    • Proteins are the building blocks of life and the major source of dietary nutrients.
    • Proteins are clusters of amino acids that play a crucial role in the formation of tissues, organs, and muscles.
    • Ensuring your baby receives the best and right amount of protein during their early stages of life can set the foundation for a healthy path. 

     

    Shoutout to Iron & Zinc:

    You've most likely heard about iron and zinc, which are vital for baby's growth and development! In fact, iron is the most abundant metal in the human body.

    The Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends offering foods high in iron and zinc -- commonly found in meat, nut butter and eggs -- as soon as baby is ready to start solids. 

    Iron Absorption from Plant vs Animal Proteins:

    • Dietary iron is found in two forms, heme and non-heme iron.
    • Heme iron (found mainly in meat, poultry and fish) is well absorbed.
    • Non-heme iron, which accounts for the majority of the iron in plants, is less well absorbed.

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    Protein Variety:

    • Including a variety of protein-rich foods from both animal and plant sources can provide a balance of nutrients including a variety of vitamins and minerals.
    • At Square Baby, you can choose from whole milk yogurt-based protein("A" Meals), plant-based protein like beans, lentils, nuts, and legumes ("B" Meals), and animal-based proteins like organic chicken bone broth, beef broth, egg, and salmon ("C" Meals) .

    Texture Considerations:

    • Ensure that protein-rich foods are prepared in a way that is suitable for your baby/toddler's developmental age and stage. 
    • Depending on their individual development, babies may need their food prepared in a smooth or chunky texture (or even may be ready to gnaw on a chicken drumstick!). 
    • Make sure any purees or small bites are deboned and easy to choose and/or swallow.

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    High Quality Proteins

    There are several high quality protein sources to choose from. Recommended by our team of Registered Dietitians, here are the best proteins for baby's growth and development:

    Yogurt-Based Protein ("A" Square Meals)

    • Yogurt:
      • Full-fat plain yogurt is a good source of protein and also provides beneficial probiotics for digestion.
      • If possible, avoid flavored or yogurt with added sugar. Instead, try to add your own mashed, sliced, or cut up fruit to naturally sweeten yogurt. 
      • Yogurt is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, which helps build strong bones.
      • Yogurt too thick? Try mixing with breastmilk and/or formula to thin as desired.

    Plant-Based Protein ("B" Square Meals)

    • Beans & Lentils:
      • Chickpeas, lentils, and beans are good plant-based protein sources.
      • They also provide fiber, iron, and other essential nutrients.
      • Lentils are known to be easier on the tummy, so they're a great early protein for your little one.
      • Remember to prepare beans and lentils in age-appropriate textures. Generally, they can be pureed (6+ months), mashed or flattened (starting at 9+ months), or even eaten whole (starting at 12+months).
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    • Tofu:
      • Tofu is another plant-based protein with 17g of protein per 3.5oz.
      • Tofu is condensed soy milk pressed into a block.
      • Soy is one of the top 9 allergens! Research shows to introduce allergens early and often to potentially reduce the risk of developing allergens later in life.
      • Okara (Upcycled) Soy Flour is found in our Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie!
    • Nut Butters:
      • Peanut butter and other nut butters (like almond or cashew butter) are good sources of plant protein and healthy fats. 
      • 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter has about 3.6g of protein.
      • Ensure that the texture is suitable for your child's age to prevent choking by mixing 1-2 teaspoons of nut butter with 2-3 teaspoons of water, formula, or breastmilk. Thin as desired!
      • Try also adding nut butter into foods such as yogurt or oatmeal or add a thin layer on a piece of toast or teething cracker. 
      • New research shows introducing peanut and other nut butters early and often may potentially reduce the risk of developing allergies later in life.

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    Square Baby recently launched peanut powder! 

    • Quinoa:
      • Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids need for growth and development. It is also a good source of fiber and other nutrients.
      • Try adding quinoa mixed with mashed avocado or even add to meatballs for an additional boost in protein.

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    Animal-Based Proteins ("C" Square Meals)

    • Eggs:
      • Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein, containing about 6-7g of protein per egg. 
      • Eggs are highly nutritious - containing all the essential amino acids needed to grow and function properly!
      • Eggs contain choline - a vital nutrient need for brain development and growth!
      • Depending on the age and development of your baby, try scrambled eggs or an egg omelet. 
      • Egg is one of the top 9 allergens! Research shows to introduce allergens early and often to potentially reduce the risk of developing allergens later in life.
    • Lean meats like chicken, turkey, or beef:
      • Animal proteins such as chicken, turkey, and beef contain all the essential amino acids our body needs. 
      • Meat is high in essential minerals such as iron and zinc, which are required for the production of red blood cells and metabolism, respectively.
      • Serve cooked meat in age-appropriate textures in either a puree, roasted or slow cooked in shredded pieces, or finely chopped.
    • Fish:
      • Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, is a great source of protein, omega-3 (called DHA and EPA), omega-6 fats, iron, and choline, which are all important for brain development.
      • Just 2 Tbsp of salmon provides over 5g of protein!
      • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends babies/toddlers limit fish to 2 servings per week, or 2 oz per week. 
      • Choose low mercury fish including: cod, salmon, herring, anchovy, or haddock. Our favorite is Safe Catch -- tested for mercury and sustainably-caught!
      • Prepare fish in age-appropriate textures including a cooked, deboned filet (size and width of a pinky finger) to enable baby to easily grab and hold.
      • Fish is one of the top 9 allergens! Research shows to introduce allergens early and often to potentially reduce the risk of developing allergens later in life.

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    Before introducing new foods to your baby, please consult with a pediatrician or a registered dietitian for personalized advice based on your child's specific needs and development stage. In addition, a healthcare professional can provide guidance on the appropriate portion sizes, food textures, and overall nutritional requirements for your child.

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    Protein-Packed Recipes for Baby

    Incorporating protein in your baby's diet can be achieved through creative and tasty recipes. Here are some easy baby/toddler-friendly recipes that are protein-packed:

    Cheesy Quinoa Bites:

    Ingredients:

    • Cooked quinoa
    • Shredded cheddar cheese
    • Finely chopped vegetables (e.g., spinach, carrots)
    • Egg

    Instructions:

    • Mix cooked quinoa, shredded cheese, chopped vegetables, and a beaten egg.
    • Spoon the mixture into mini muffin cups and bake until set.

    Yogurt Parfait:

    Ingredients:

    • Full-fat plain yogurt 
    • Smashed berries
    • Cooked oatmeal
    • Beet Berry

    Instructions:

    • Layer yogurt, oatmeal, with fresh smashed berries in a baby-friendly cup. Drizzle with Beet Berry puree.

    Mini Turkey and Veggie Meatballs:

    Ingredients:

    • Ground turkey
    • Finely grated zucchini and carrots
    • Bread crumbs
    • Egg

    Instructions:

    • Mix ground turkey with grated veggies, bread crumbs, and beaten egg.
    • Form small meatballs and bake until cooked through.

    Egg and Veggie Muffins:

    Ingredients:

    Instructions:

    • Whisk eggs and mix with chopped veggies and cheese.
    • Pour the mixture into muffin cups and bake until set.

    Peanut Butter Banana Sandwiches:

    Ingredients:

    • Whole grain bread
    • Peanut butter (allergen introduction)
    • Sliced bananas

    Instructions:

    • Thinly spread peanut butter on soft whole grain bread and top with thin banana slices.
    • Cut into bite-sized pieces for easy handling.

    Chickpea Nuggets:

    Ingredients:

    • Canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    • Bread crumbs
    • Egg (allergen introduction)
    • Spices (e.g., cumin, garlic powder)

    Instructions:

    • Blend chickpeas, bread crumbs, egg, and spices in a food processor.
    • Shape into nuggets and bake until golden.

      Salmon and Avocado Wrap:

      Ingredients:

      • Canned skipjack tuna or salmon (allergen introduction)
      • Mashed avocado
      • Whole grain tortilla

      Instructions:

      • Mix fish with mashed avocado and spread on a whole grain tortilla.
      • Roll and slice into bite-sized pieces.

       

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      Square Baby Can Help

      Some protein-packed foods are easier to introduce to your baby than others (we get it!). That's why we created Square Baby meals with protein sources to fit every family. Choose from A-B-C Square Meal System to select yogurt protein "A", plant protein "B", or animal protein "C". 

      The Square Meal System explained:

      1. For our "A" Square Meals, you can select our favorites: Beet Berry and Blueberry Crush.
      2. For our "B" Square Meals, you can select: Almond Butter & Banana, Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie, Minty Greens, and Apple Rosemary Lentils.
      3. For our "C" Square Meals, you can select: Harvest Feast, Apple Curry Chicken, and Mango Coconut Chicken

      We've done the research and the nutrition-based math to assure your little one is getting the right amount of the right foods for optimal nutrition and palate development. Finally, there's a simple way for parents to offer their kiddos 100% of their daily nutrition. Because we believe that balanced meals go hand-in-hand with a balanced life!

      Don't hesitate to reach out with questions - We're happy to help!

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      ~Katie & Kendall, Cofounders and Chief Mamas

      Please note: This blog post is for information purposes only and shouldn’t be used as personal, health, nutritional, or medical advice. Above all, always consult with your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child's health or readiness for various foods.

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