Many children struggle with weight issues. While the focus is normally on losing weight, some children have difficulty gaining weight. If you're concerned that your child is not eating enough, you can help promote healthy weight gain by offering nutrient-rich, calorie-dense meals and snacks. Consult your pediatrician to discuss weight and diet for your child.
Before you start changing your child's diet, it's important to set up a healthy meal routine to improve the overall eating experience for your child. Set up a regular meal schedule, but allow your child to snack between meals when hungry. Create a relaxed environment to make eating a pleasant experience, and limit distractions by eating at a table and shutting off the TV.
Don't let your child fill up on drinks between meals. Even though they're a good source of calories, too much milk or juice can spoil your child's appetite for meals. Offer drinks after they've eaten.
To encourage healthier eating, offer nutritious meals that include a variety of high-calorie foods from all of the food groups so that your child gets all the nutrients needed for good health.
High-calorie healthy grains include brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, granola and whole-grain cereals. Fruit and veggie options for more calories include avocados, dried fruit, bananas, 100 percent fruit juice, potatoes, peas and winter squash. For protein, try dark meat poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, hummus, fatty fish such as salmon or tuna and ground meat. Switch from nonfat dairy foods to low-fat or full-fat dairy to increase calories.
If your child rejects certain foods, offer options within the same food group to help create nutritional balance.
Warning for parents of toddlers from the American Academy of Pediatrics: Do not offer your toddler nuts, seeds, raw carrots or raw celery sticks. Nut butters are OK, but only if spread thinly on crackers or bread. Also be sure to cut foods into bite-size pieces to prevent choking.
Calorie boosters increase calories without increasing the amount of food your child needs to eat. For example, nonfat dried milk powder contains 109 calories per 1/4-cup serving, which you can add to milk, yogurt, hot cereal, soups or casseroles to easily increase calories. Sauteing vegetables in oil instead of steaming them is also a good calorie booster. Flaxseed and coconut oil add flavor and calories to smoothies and hot cereal. Other calorie boosters include cheese, heavy cream, eggs, nut butters and gravy.
Importance of Snacks
Snacking is an important part of any child's diet but is especially important when you're trying to help your child gain weight. The key is to provide high-calorie, nutrient-rich snacks that don't diminish mealtime appetite.
Weight-gain snacks for your child might include peanut butter or cheese and crackers, a cup of whole milk with added nonfat dried milk powder, hummus with veggies or whole-wheat pita bread, a fruit smoothie with added nut butter or coconut oil or cheese and whole-grain crackers. Including a snack before bed is also helpful when you're trying to promote weight gain.