Getting enough calories isn't a problem for most people, but a child who is underweight or eats very little may need increased calories in his diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the underweight category as a child below the fifth percentile based on the body mass index, or BMI. If your child needs more calories in his little body, focus on healthy and nutrient-dense foods that keep him full while putting on weight.
Create a relaxing, distraction-free environment for eating. If the TV is playing his favorite show and his toys are within view, he won't want to sit still to eat. Pressuring him to eat may backfire and cause him to eat less food.
Offer calorie-dense foods at each meal or snack time. Examples include avocados, meat, potatoes, beans and fish. These foods offer nutritional value while adding calories to your child's daily intake. Avoid high-calorie foods with little nutritional value, such as candy or fried food. While your child's calorie intake will increase, he gets the potentially harmful effects of too much sugar or grease.
Swap low-fat dairy for the full-fat versions. If you usually buy skim milk for the family, buy two percent or whole milk for your child. Instead of low-fat sour cream, cheese and cottage cheese, use the higher fat types.
Add extra calories to your child's favorite dishes. Add cheese to dishes such as pasta, soup, bread and eggs. Stir in sour cream or cream cheese to soups or casseroles. Blend in peanut butter with your child's fruit smoothie. Add butter and cheese to his mashed potatoes.
Cook with healthy fats to increase the calorie content of foods. Instead of steaming his vegetables, saute them in olive or coconut oil. Saute meat in a little oil and seasoning.
Serve dips with his meals and snacks for a few extra calories. Mix peanut butter, honey and Greek yogurt together for a fruit dip. Stir dry ranch dressing powder into Greek yogurt for a vegetable dip. Other dip options include hummus, salad dressing and guacamole.
Pack healthy snacks in your diaper bag or purse in case your child is hungry when you're away from home. Having a snack ready means you can get calories in him when he decides he is hungry. Portable, healthy snacks include crackers, cereal, fruit leather made from real fruit, low-sugar granola bars and peanuts if your child is old enough to eat them safely. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding peanuts and similar food for kids under age 4.
- Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics: Tips for Increasing Calories and Protein to Promote Weight Gain
- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: How to Help Your Child Gain Weight
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About BMI for Children and Teens
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Choking Prevention
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