How can I help my child gain weight?

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**** Dietitian support during COVID-19****

Children gain weight as they get older in order to help them grow. However, some children do not gain enough weight. There are many reasons for this. The most common reason is because they do not eat enough food to meet their needs. If your child’s doctor recommends that your child needs to gain weight, read on for  more information. 

How do I know if my child is not gaining enough weight?

All children have a pattern of growth that is natural to them. They are growing well if they are “tracking” along the same growth pattern over time. Your child should be weighed and measured on a regular basis during routine visits to the doctor to track their growth. 

What are some reasons why my child is not gaining enough weight?

Your child may not be gaining enough weight because:

  • They are not eating enough
  • Their eating and coordination skills are lacking or there are feeding issues
  • They have increased energy requirements
  • They have chronic or recurring infections
  • They have an underlying disease or condition

What may happen if my child doesn’t gain enough weight?

Poor weight gain can lead to Failure to Thrive (FTT). FTT is when a child does not gain weight as they should when compared to other children. FTT may lead to poor growth and delayed mental development. Only a health care provider can diagnose if a child has FTT.  

When should I bring my child to the doctor?

If your child’s eating patterns suddenly change, they are avoiding food and you notice a drop in their weight speak with your child’s doctor to make sure they do not have any nutrition or health problems.

How can I help my child gain weight?

By making small changes to your child’s meals and snacks throughout the day, you can increase the calories they get. The following tips can help your child gain weight and promote growth.

Choose nutritious, high energy foods and beverages

  • Provide a variety of age appropriate foods over three meals and two to three snacks per day.
  • Choose higher fat cuts of meat (rib eye, T-bone, medium ground beef), dark meat from chicken and fatty fish like salmon.
  • Use whole milk, cheese, cream and yogurt (3% M.F. or higher).
  • Choose high calorie drinks such as milkshakes and fruit smoothies made with whole milk, yogurt or cream for more calories. You can also add nut butter depending on the recipe.
  • Wait until the end of your child’s meal or snack before offering fluids. Fluids can fill up small stomachs.
  • Prepare higher calorie foods like grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cream soups, casseroles, scalloped potatoes, custards and puddings.

Some ideas for fat and protein rich snacks 

  • Nut and seed butters spread on apples, bananas and celery sticks.
  • Sliced apples served with full fat yogurt or cheese slices.
  • Nuts and seeds with dried fruit (use chopped nuts and chopped dried fruit for children under four to prevent choking).
  • Smoothies made with whole milk, Greek yogurt and peanut butter.
  • Homemade granola bars or muffins.
  • Raw vegetables, tortilla chips or crackers with guacamole or hummus.

Add fats and oils to regular meals 

  • Add butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, vegetable oils like canola or olive oil to rice, pasta and other cooked grains.
  • Add peanut butter, almond butter or tahini to bread, crackers and pancakes (spread thinly as thick nut butters can be a choking hazard for children under four years of age).
  • Add cream or whipping cream to soups, milkshakes, mashed potatoes and casseroles.
  • Add homemade cheese sauce or shredded cheese to vegetables and fruit.
The addition of extra calories using cream, powdered milk, glucose polymers, oil, or replacing regular milk with age-appropriate formulas can also be done with the help of a pediatric dietitian.

Create relaxed and regular mealtimes 

Should I give my child a nutritional supplement?

Nutritional supplements provide extra calories and nutrients to support weight gain and promote growth. They may be recommended by a dietitian or health care provider and the type recommended will depend on your child’s age. Remember, it’s important to feed your child food first before using nutritional supplements.     

Bottom line

Choose nutritious, high energy foods and beverages to promote growth and help your child gain weight. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, contact your child’s doctor, dietitian or health care provider. 

Try these energy boosting, kid friendly recipes

Ground up Frog Smoothie: replace the soy beverage with whole milk or whipping cream.

Rise & shine breakfast sandwich: make with full fat cheese, a whole egg, extra ham and  avocado. 

Mac and Squeese: use table cream or whipping cream instead of milk

Protein Bars: use full fat yogurt.

Chicken and cheese quesadillas: Add more cheese. Serve with sour cream and guacamole.

Rock’n Ranch Panini: add extra meat and full fat cheese.

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Last Update – June 10, 2020

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