A common need clients have when they are parents and trying to live a healthier lifestyle is to have access to simple, healthy recipes that can pass even their toughest critic’s taste buds (usually this critic is their child). While I prioritize eating whole foods, I will, from time to time, give my clients recipes using protein powder. I like protein powder because it comes in various flavors (such as children’s favorites chocolate and vanilla) and can be used to make an assortment of treats that would normally call for flour and sugar. Protein powder also convenient because of how easy it is to whip up a shake.

Clients will often ask me (generally astounded) if protein powder is safe for children. I chuckle because parents will feed their children a Happy Meal without a second thought or give them a muffin for breakfast without a care in the world, but are hesitant when it comes to using protein powder.

A lot of the confusion regarding protein powder is that people generally don’t understand what exactly it is. Often associated with the bodybuilding world, protein powder has gotten a rap for making people have gigantic, shredded muscles. If only gaining muscle were as simple as drinking a protein shake! Protein powder, as the name implies, is simply a concentrated form of protein. Much like a multivitamin is a concentrated form of your vitamins (which can otherwise be found in their natural state in vegetables and fruits), protein powder is an extraction of protein and can come from many different sources.

The most commonly used sourced of protein is known as whey protein. Whey is a dairy bi-product and is the liquid that is left over when making cheese. The liquid is then dehydrated and turned into a powder form. Whey protein can naturally be found in cow’s milk, which a lot of children frequently drink. The advantage to powdered whey is that the fat has been removed from it and therefore will contain less hormones than non-organic milk which can contain steroids and growth hormones because of the practices of industrial farming.

For people who are sensitive to dairy or choose not to consume animal bi-products, there are a wide-variety of plant based proteins, which are usually derived from hemp or rice. However these proteins are referred to as being incomplete proteins, since they do not contain all the amino acids that your body requires.

Children, like adults, require protein to help their muscles develop and for their cells to regenerate. While there is much debate about the amount of protein children require, a safe daily intake for children would be 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. There is no negative side effects to a child getting more protein than this recommended amount, however over eating in general can lead to childhood obesity and related health problems.

The average protein powder contains 25g of protein per serving. For a 50-pound child, one scoop of protein powder would meet their daily recommended intake. Protein powder should thus be used for children in smaller quantities. For example, you could make a fruit smoothie with one scoop of protein powder to divide amongst your children. Other options are making cookies or brownies with protein powder, as one serving usually yields 3-8g of protein.

Protein powder can safely be consumed by children and should be given in small amounts. Children who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy should avoid whey proteins. When selecting a protein powder, pick one that doesn’t contain colorants or artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and contains the least amount of fillers possible. A quality protein should be made up of few ingredients besides protein. Whole foods, such as meat, eggs and fish should be prioritized over powders because they have the nutrients that your children require to grow.