Top 5 Tips for Helping Children Gain Weight
Some kids can be smaller or larger than “average”, so it’s important to first make sure that your child doesn’t have an underlying health problem that is causing the low weight gain. This can be identified by your child’s pediatrician. In all cases, it can be great to work with a pediatric nutritionist or dietitian when you begin your journey.
Once health problems are ruled out and a doctor has instructed parents to focus on weight gain we recommend incorporating some new habits, this is where parents can take things into their own hands. There are many online resources to help so we’ve compiled the top 5 tips for helping children gain weight.
Often, we see picky eaters or active kids who have a hard time sitting down to finish eating are behind in weight. In these cases, it’s important to make sure your child’s meals are calorie and nutrient-dense, that way even if they don’t finish the whole meal, the bites that they do take are the most beneficial. If a child already has a small appetite trying to get them to just “eat more” likely won’t be helpful and can cause tension at mealtimes.
So what are some easy ways to add calories to your child’s meals?
- Use whole-fat dairy products in place of their non-fat or low fat counterparts and use heavy cream when you can.
- 2 apples of your choice, diced
- Add sour cream and butter to potatoes, casseroles, dips, vegetables, beans, and soups
- Mix cheese with almost everything
- Serve nuts or nut butters at snack time or add to meals like oatmeal, pancakes, or smoothies
- Serve guacamole or mashed avocado as a dip for vegetables
- Cook scrambled eggs with olive oil and avocado oil
Source: St. Jude Children’s Hospital
Create Positive Habits
Family habits are how children learn and can help them create good habits for their adulthood. There are some important habits that can help your child gain weight without them feeling like much has changed.
- Do avoid serving liquid at mealtime so they fill up on empty calories
- Do serve 6-8 smaller meals or snacks per day
- Do expose them to new foods even if they don’t eat them the first (or 10th) time
- Do supplement if deemed necessary
- Do serve in small quantities as to not overwhelm the child with a big, giant plate. You can let them know there is more food if they want it
Lay off the Pressure
For anxious or rebellious children, pressure to do something may be a recipe for the exact opposite to happen. Switch up the energy and lay off the pressure. Doing this, parents can be sure that their child feels relaxed and that mealtimes are something to be enjoyed instead of avoided.
- Don't rush
- Don't force them to finish
- Don’t nag about what they did or did not eat
- Don’t stop exposing them to new foods. Melanie Pottock has some great tips here for exposing children to new foods
Nutrient-Dense Calories are still a “Yes”
Sally Kuzemchak MS, RD says in her article about feeding underweight children “Quality matters. It would be easy to throw a bunch of calories at the problem in the form of cookies and potato chips.”
As parents we want to be sure that our children are gaining healthy weight and not giving them ice cream for the sake of weight gain. So, focus on nutrient-dense, but still calorie-dense, foods like nuts, cheese sticks, red meats, whole grains, whole-fat dairy.
Exercise can increase your child’s natural appetite. Making sure that your child is active whether through organized sports or a simple “workout with” mom or dad will naturally encourage them to feel more hungry. Here are some fun age appropriate workouts for your kiddo:
- Playing tag
- Hitting a ball off a T-ball stand and running "bases"
- Kick a ball back and forth
- Playing on a play structure
- Riding a tricycle or bike with training wheels
- Running in organized sports
- Dancing to fun music
- Swimming with adult supervision
- Supervised body-weight training
- Using creative equipment such as hula hoops, jump ropes, recreational balls
Whatever you do, your children are lucky to have a parent invested in their health. We hope these tips help you start some beneficial habits with your kiddo and help them gain healthy weight!
The content in the Healthy Height Growth and Nutrition Guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.