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My daughter is 7 years old and we often feed her meat about 15-17 meals per week (out of 21). However, I am concerned that we are giving her meat too often.

I realize that there maybe guidelines for both quantity and frequency (e.g., do not give the entire weekly allotment of meat in a single serving or perhaps have at least one day per week without red meat or without any meat, etc.). So, I am wondering, what standards are there (for a 7 year old) for how much meat to give them and how frequently to give it?

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Meat, in and of itself, isn't something that you must eat any particular amount of. Many people are quite successful vegetarians and vegans, even as children, and on the other side of things, well, many children have meat-centric meals at least as much as you describe with no ill effects.

The important consideration is the diet as a whole, and what effect meat has on that. The kind of meat, in particular, matters; eating skinless chicken breasts you're eating nearly entirely protein, zero fat or close to it. Eating a breakfast (pork) sausage on the other hand is a huge amount of fat, mostly saturated.

Children's needs aren't all that different from adult's needs, except that there are some things that may benefit them in their development (although most things like that are speculative still). Fish (particularly cold water fish) for example is supposed to help with brain development because of some of the fats in it. In general, though, ensuring your child is active and eating a normal amount of calories with a balance of protein, fat (some, not none!), and vitamins is what is important. If she chooses (or you choose for her) to get that protein through meat, then that's fine, so long as it doesn't mean she's eating a huge amount of fat along with it.

If you're looking for some specific guidelines to make this easier, look around; there are many good references out there. Some examples:

The Mayo Clinic Guidelines are a good place to start. For a girl at seven, she should be eating 1200-1800 calories, with 3-5 ounces (85-140g) protein-containing foods per day.

HealthyChildren.org's guidelines recommend 3-4 ounces (85-115g) of meat and beans per day.

The USDA's Choose My Plate site recommends for a 6-8 year old eating 1400 calories per day, 4 ounces of protein foods as well. They also recommend at most 4 ounces of oils (=fats) per day (115g).

  • Thank you for the very detailed answer. So there is no widely acknowledged need to skip meat, say, at least one day per week to let the body rest/recover from processing it? – DrJ Aug 14 '15 at 15:41
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    While you could find any number of sites saying so... No, that would not be widely accepted. Your body can handle meat fine. That said, eating less meat can make it easier to control calories for some people (such as myself, as I like fatty meat - so less fatty meat vs. more lean meat is my choice. ) – Joe Aug 14 '15 at 15:45
  • @Joe here's an evidence based bit of government level advice recommending adults restrict the amount of red (or processed) meat to less than 70g nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/red-meat.aspx – DanBeale Aug 15 '15 at 16:09
  • "balance of protein, fat (some, not none!), and vitamins" What you balance is protein, fat, and carbs (after getting the correct caloric intake), vitamins don't need balancing. – bjb568 Aug 17 '15 at 21:00
  • Probably true for the most part, but there are some deleterious effects in very large quantities of some vitamins (and minerals); in particular, iron, and calcium in too large of quantities can inhibit absorption of some vitamins/minerals. Vitamin C and some of the B vitamins can also be overconsumed, although it is not normally possible to do so in food. – Joe Aug 17 '15 at 21:08
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The recommendations on how much of a particular food group should be included in a healthy diet give amounts per day, and aren't so concerned about which meals each item is included in.

Depending on which set of guidelines you look at, a seven year old girl should be getting 3-5 ounces of lean proteins a day.

Here are a couple of links to charts that break down amounts of the different food groups for age and gender. The chart from the American Heart Association is a bit more restrictive on protein than the Mayo Clinic one.

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Red meat and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of colo-rectal cancer. Adults who eat more than 90g of red or processed meat per day are advised to cut down to less than 70g.

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/red-meat.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/meat.aspx

I'm not sure if you're including "fish" in your definition of meat. There are limits to the amount of fish that adults and children eat because of pollutants that are stored in the fat.

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/fish-shellfish.aspx#much2

Meat products can be high in salt. Children, especially young children, can have difficulty processing salt and you may wish to keep an eye on that.

Meat and meat products tend to be low in dietary fibre. You'll want to make sure that plenty of fibre is included in the diet.

You probably want to avoid British style barbecue - quick cooking over very hot open charcoal. This tends to have burnt outside and possibly undercooked inside. The undercooking is risky for some types of meat. The burnt bits are harmful for all meat. Often the meat is cooked in smoke and those hydrocarbons are risky, although the risk of food poisoning is much greater.

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Summerhealth/Pages/Barbecuefoodsafety.aspx

Meat and meat products are a significant source of food poisoning. You should learn your local advice for avoiding food poisoning and carefully follow that. The advice does differ in different countries - in England you're not supposed to wash chickens before cooking them. Other countries don't have that restriction.

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    Can you clarify for me "children, especially young children, can have difficulty processing salt" -- is it simply a lower tolerance to high sodium levels because they're relatively small humans, or is there a different mechanism beyond that? – Acire Aug 15 '15 at 20:06
  • Hi @Erica that's a good question. I don't know the answer. Here's the UK National Health Service page I got that from. nhs.uk/chq/Pages/824.aspx?CategoryID=51 – DanBeale Aug 15 '15 at 20:11
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    Apparently a baby's kidneys can't cope as well with extra salt ("Renal function differs in term infants from that in adults, with lower glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and reduced proximal tubular reabsorption of sodium (Na) and water" [source]), and with older kids it's more an issue of developing a taste preference for saltier foods that can eventually cause them trouble as adults [source]. Both are facts that I didn't really know, and worth considering! – Acire Aug 16 '15 at 1:45

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