We’re always talking about how kids need to lose weight these days.
However, if you’ve ever watched as your little one dropped pounds week after week, you’ll know how incredibly worrying that is.
As a parent, one of the things I love most in my day is when we all sit down together to eat.
Watching my two girls eating a healthy, home cooked meal makes me feel like I’m at least doing something right.
I’m sure many of you will know exactly what I’m talking about.
But when your child is underweight, you feel the immense pressure to halt that process, and it can make family mealtimes extremely stressful.
In fact, I had an email recently from one of my readers on this subject::
Hi Melanie! I’m needing some advice for my son. He has always been thin but a couple of months ago he suffered a bout of Scarlet Fever and lost even more weight. It took him about a month to get his appetite back, but the weight still isn’t coming back on. Could you please tell me how I can get the weight back in a healthy way? He will more or less eat anything. Thank you!
The age-old advice was simply to feed the underweight infant or child milkshakes and ice-cream.
But that is, quite frankly, a pathetic option, and there is a much better way that will help your child to thrive, not just survive.
So, how can you help your child to gain weight safely?
Be Realistic About Weight Gain
You know how tempting it is to obsess over the reading on your bathroom scales; please don’t pass this obsession on to your children, too, by placing too much emphasis on their weight.
Obviously from time to time you may want to weigh your child, and that’s totally fine.
But remember that children (like adults!) come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and they don’t grow at a steady rate, either.
Your child will probably look very different from your friends’ child, or even from their own siblings at the same age. That can still be completely normal, so don’t overanalyze things.
Also, try to be realistic about how quickly you expect your child to gain weight after being sick.
For some children it can be slow, but they will get there in the end.
Directing your energy towards giving them a nutrient packed diet will be much more productive than worrying about how much they currently weigh.
Ultimately, when your child eats well most of the time, they will eventually find their way to a healthy weight.
(Note: I’m assuming your doctor has ruled out any underlying medical conditions, and jumping straight to the nutritional advice in this article. Please seek personalized advice from your doctor if your child continues to lose weight)
Top Healthy Foods to Gain Weight
There are lots of healthy foods to gain weight, which you can add to your child’s diet, that are both delicious and will be eaten without a fight.
1. Healthy Fats
The low fat craze has gone way too far, overlooking the complex nature of fats and how they work in the body, with many people utterly afraid to eat fat.
Perhaps you think you need to restrict your child’s fat intake, too, but you don’t need to avoid giving your children fats, you just need to make sure it’s the right fats they are eating.
Fats are absolutely essential in the diet of growing children for their brain and nervous system to develop correctly, as well as being an aid for the absorption of certain vitamins.
So, here are some of the best sources of healthy fats:
Coconut oil has become a favorite of mine in recent years.
It adds sweetness and beneficial calories to the diet. Just make sure you choose unrefined, virgin coconut oil.
Try adding a tablespoon of it into a smoothie, or sauté meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, or eggs in coconut oil.
Flaxseed oil has a very mild flavor, so it will go unnoticed wherever you add it.
Try mixing it into a smoothie, drizzling it over popcorn, or tossing it over cooked vegetables.
Pistachios, walnuts, almonds and cashews are great choices for older kids.
Mix them with some dried fruits, seeds and a few dark chocolate chips to make the perfect on-the-go snack.
Choose unsalted and non-roasted nuts and seeds, where possible.
Avocados are one of the most nutritious fruits, being a great source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. And they are so versatile.
Use them in a salad or sandwich filling, make them into a dip, add to a smoothie, or make a dessert with avocado and cocoa powder.
Full fat dairy
I only buy full fat dairy products these days. Despite the low fat mantra, the reality is that everyone needs the beneficial fats you find in dairy foods.
Butterfat is a great source of easily absorbed vitamin A. It also contains the fat-soluble vitamins D, E and K2. Also, milk and cheese from grass fed cattle is a good source of omega 3 fats.
So I recommend full fat milk, yogurt and cheese as a regular in your child’s diet, as well as your own.
If you’re worried about eating full fat dairy, check out my article for details on why you’ve been lied to.
2. Protein Rich Foods
Protein is really important to help with muscle development and overall growth, so make sure your child gets plenty of foods like chicken, turkey, beef, fish and eggs.
Again, it’s okay to prepare these foods with a little bit of extra butter, or an oil such as olive oil or coconut oil.
Other nutrient packed sources of protein include beans, seeds, nuts and natural nut butters.
A good way to give your regular meals a protein boost is to add beans to casseroles, curries and soups, or by adding chopped or ground nuts to baked foods, such as muffins, cookies, or pancakes.
3. Smoothies and Juices
For underweight children, smoothies, shakes and juices are a fantastic way to help them gain some weight.
I recommend waiting until the end of your child’s meal, though, before giving them filling fluids like smoothies, because it’s easy to fill up on fluids, which doesn’t leave much room for more nutritious foods.
Also remember that other liquids like water and tea can fill you up. So encourage drinking these liquids separately, to leave plenty of room for more nourishing foods.
Fruit smoothies can be made using whole milk, full fat yogurt and lots of fresh fruit, for a nutritious boost to your child’s diet.
Create a Happy Mealtime
It can be really stressful watching your child lose weight, and that stress is usually played out at the dinner table as you battle with them about what they will or won’t eat.
Don’t allow that to happen!
Children will eat when they are hungry and feel secure, so pressuring them to eat could backfire on you, and cause your child to eat less.
Remember, it is your responsibility to provide the healthy food, but it is up to your child to decide how much of it they will eat.
Also, try to ensure meals are eaten away from the television or computer, as this will help your child to focus on eating.
While you might think this sounds counterintuitive, it’s important you make sure your child is getting enough exercise.
Exercise does burn calories, however it has an amazing ability to create a healthy appetite, which will help you child to feel hungry enough to eat good meals and snacks.
Best Foods to Gain Weight
Here’s a roundup of some of the best foods to gain weight:
- Provide something from the protein group at each main meal, e.g. fish, poultry, beef, eggs or legumes
- Rice, potatoes and pasta, as the base of each main meal
- Aim for five portions of fruit and veg each day
- Full fat dairy, including butter, milk, yogurt and cheese
- Oils such as olive oil and coconut oil
- Boost the nutrient content of meals with grated hard boiled eggs or legumes added to salads, sauces, and soups.
- Dried fruits and trail mix made with your choice of nuts, seeds and dried fruit
- Choose nut butters, whole nuts and seeds for snacks
- Smoothies made with whole milk, yogurt, fruit and coconut oil
- Hummus and bean dips with crackers or raw veg
Energy Bar Recipe
Here’s a recipe for nutritious energy bars, which would be fantastic to have in your fridge or freezer for a healthy snack whenever your children feel like it.
1 cup peanut butter, or other nut butter
1/2 to 1 cup honey (start with less, then add more if needed)
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup ground chia seed or flaxseed
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit (e.g almonds, sunflower seeds and apricots)
- Combine the nut butter and honey in a large mixing bowl and stir until smooth. Gradually add the oats and chia seed or flaxseed. Add the chocolate chips and the nut-seed-fruit mixture, and mix to combine.
- Use your hands to roll the mixture into balls approximately the size of ping-pong balls, then roll them in shredded coconut.
- Place in mini-muffin cups, and layer in an airtight container, separating with wax paper.
- These can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for 7 to 10 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Makes about 40
If you haven’t tried my protein bar recipe, I recommend that recipe, too. It really is delicious and nutritious.
Remember, the key to healthy weight gain is to be consistent.
Stick to a consistent eating schedule and your child will eventually get there.
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