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Nutrition > Tips to Improve Weight Gain

Tips to Improve Weight Gain

We follow weights of children to be sure they are growing properly. There are many normal sizes, and some children tend to be thin regardless of what they eat. Some children do not eat enough calories for various reasons. If a child is underweight it is important to still avoid junk foods and fillers. Remember that healthy habits are more important than exact weight or BMI (BodyMass Index, which is a comparison of weight to height). If your child eats well but is active and not ill, it might be normal to have a low BMI (ie be thin). It is important to work with your provider to rule out medical reasons of low weight, so discuss any concerns at your child's next well visit.

Hints to help eating problems

  • Having regularly scheduled meals at the table set by the parent/caregiver work best.
  • Avoid distractions, such as television, while eating.
  • Give nutritious food choices. Your child has the option of how much to eat.
  • Make mealtimes calm and relaxed. Try not to hurry meals.
  • Try changing the time, place and surroundings of meals. A picnic can make mealtime more fun, even if it's in the house.
  • Let your child eat when he is hungry. Several smaller meals throughout the day may be better than three main meals. Don't allow constant grazing though - set scheduled meal and snack times.
  • Praise healthy eating, not necessarily finishing a plate of food, but trying healthy foods.
  • Avoid arguing, nagging or punishing. Forcing a child to eat may make the situation worse.
  • If your child rejects all of one type of food at a meal, offer another food from that food group at the next meal or a snack to promote good nutrition.
  • High sugar, low nutrient drinks or foods, such as Capri Sun and candy, may spoil your child’s appetite without providing many calories and nutrients. Try smoothies, peanut butter on fruit, milkshakes, or other treats that are nutritious instead.
  • Fats are often associated with unhealthy eating, but many kids can benefit from the added calories of fats. Healthy fats can provide more calories without adding more food volume. Use olive oil, butter, whole milk, cream, cheeses, avacados, and nuts*/nut butters liberally.
  • Keep snacks, such as peanuts (if not allergic and the child is old enough - nuts are a choking risk for younger children) or peanut butter and cracker snacks, in your purse or car so a snack is available on the go. Be careful to not leave traces of peanut in public areas- wipe surfaces clean!
  • Try not to offer drinks right before meals or at the beginning of meals. The liquids may fill your child up and keep him from eating as much solid food during the meal.

Tips for Increasing Calories and Protein

  • Try eating 6 to 8 smaller meals or snacks per day.
  • If you can only eat a few bites, eat more often, but snacks should be mini meals with nutritious components.
  • Allow kids to eat when they feel hungry. Keep ready-to-eat foods on hand. Talk to your child's teacher if snacks are not allowed in the classroom to see if exceptions can be made.
  • Don’t fill up on liquids at meals. Instead, drink just enough at meals to swallow food with comfort. 
  • Drink water between meals to stay hydrated. Avoid liquids that offer calories without nutrients.


  • Try drinking whole milk, flavored milk, buttermilk, hot cocoa, or milkshakes with meals.
  • Add whipping cream or powdered milk to whole milk to boost calories.
  • Use milk or “Half and Half” instead of water to make soups and hot cereals.
  • Have ice cream or regular yogurt for snacks and desserts. Top off waffles or pancakes with ice cream, whipped cream, or fruit toppings.
  • Add whipping cream to pies, fruit, pudding, fruit-flavored gelatin, hot cocoa, and other desserts.
  • Serve heavy cream with fruits (peaches n’ cream, strawberries n’ cream, etc.)
  • Add sour cream to potatoes, casseroles, dips, vegetables, fruit, beans, and soups.
  • Add cream cheese to spreads and cheesecake, or put it on crackers.
  • Mix cheese with almost everything.
    • Melt cheese in scrambled eggs or on fried eggs.
    • Melt cheese on hamburgers and add it to other meat sandwiches.
    • Melt cheese onto meatloaf, spaghetti, pizza, and casseroles.
    • Melt cheese onto baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, and other vegetables.
    • Add cheese to salads, soups, and chili.
    • Melt cheese onto bread, biscuits, rolls and cornbread.
    • Serve cheese dip with chips or vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
  • For any recipe that calls for milk, use a high calorie supplement, whipping cream (heavy cream or light cream), whole milk, or fortified milk.


  • Put extra meat on sandwiches.
  • Have extra helpings of meat at meals. Eat the meat first and eat less of other food.
  • Add chopped, cooked meats to soups, salads, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and pasta dishes.
  • Add extra eggs to meat, casseroles, etc.


  • Serve nuts as snacks like trail mix as well as in cereals or breads, and on desserts.
  • Put extra peanut butter on sandwiches, bagels, and biscuits.
  • Spread peanut butter or other nut butters onto cookies, vanilla wafers, graham crackers, granola bars, pretzels, and crackers.
  • Add peanut butter to pancakes, French toast, and waffles before pouring on the syrup.
  • Put peanut butter on fruits and vegetables (apples, bananas, pears, celery, carrots, etc.)
  • Make peanut butter milkshakes.
  • Avoid hard nuts in young children due to choking risk. Use nut powders or nut butters instead.


  • Use butter, margarine, or oil.
    • Add it to soups, vegetables, mashed potatoes, cooked cereal, pudding, rice, pasta, and casseroles.
    • Spread extra onto rolls, biscuits, cornbread, sandwiches, and toast.
    • Add 1 tablespoon coconut oil to smoothies and milkshakes.
    • Sauté or stir-fry vegetables, meats, chicken, and seafood in olive, canola, or coconut oil.
    • Marinate meat, chicken, or fish in vegetable, canola, olive, or sesame oil before cooking.
  • Add foods such as avocado and nuts to meals.
  • Add salad dressings to vegetables, potatoes, and salads.
  • Add extra mayonnaise to sandwiches, tuna salad, egg salad, chicken salad, and ham salad.
  • Add gravy to potatoes, vegetables, rice, pasta, and meats.
  • Add extra frosting to fruit, cookies, cakes, graham crackers, and other desserts.

The following is a list of foods and ideas and how to add them to other foods to increase calories and protein in your child’s diet. Also listed are snack ideas that are high in calories and protein. Foods with an asterisk (*) may cause choking. They are not for children younger than 3 years of age.

Ways to increase calories and protein

Food How to Use
Powdered Milk Combine whole milk with powdered milk (1 cup powdered milk to 1 quart whole milk). Add powdered milk to casseroles, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, puddings, custards, sauces, soups or use in baking by adding to batter.
Milk, Cream or Half & Half Use in place of water in preparing foods such as hot cereals, hot cocoa, soups, batters, puddings, or mashed potatoes. Serve cream sauces with vegetables or pasta dishes. Use whole milk or cream instead of lower fat varieties.
Eggs and Meat

Add chopped, cooked eggs to salads, vegetables or casseroles. Add extra eggs to French toast, quiche or pancake batter. Add small pieces of cooked meats, poultry or fish to casseroles, pasta salads, soups or omelets. Bread meat before cooking. Make custard. Add eggs to sandwich spreads.

Cheese and Yogurt Choose products made from whole milk, not lower fat versions. Melt cheese on sandwiches, breads, muffins, tortillas, hot dogs*, and hamburgers. Use cheese in omelets, casseroles, sauces, and pasta dishes. Use cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit.  Spread cream cheese or soft cheeses on sandwiches, crackers, fruit slices, or muffins. Roll cheese inside meats. Use yogurt to make shakes, fruit drinks, or as topping for cereal, pancakes, waffles, or fruit. 
Peanut butter, beans and nuts* Add beans to soups, stews, casseroles, and salads. Spread peanut butter on crackers, breads, bagels, fruits, or vegetables. Mix peanut butter in milk shakes, ice cream, frozen yogurt, or baked goods. Add nuts* to desserts, salads or ice cream. Serve vegetables or chips with bean dip.
Fruits and Vegetables Add mashed fruits to yogurt, shakes, ice cream, or pudding. Add dried fruit to cookies and other baked goods. Combine dried fruit with nuts* or granola for snacks. Serve raw vegetables with dip - many kids like carrots, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, and others. Avocados are another great choice. Dips can be made from chick peas (hummus), yogurt, avacados (guacamole), cheese, and other healthy foods.
Nutritional Supplements Forta, Carnation Instant Breakfast, Pediasure, Kindercal, Ensure, and Boost. (Consult dietician before using.) We generally prefer kids to eat their calories, not to rely on supplements.
High Calorie Additions Add these items liberally to food: Butter, margarine, gravy, whipped cream, sour cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise, cream soups, and cheese sauce. Add to mashed or baked potatoes, hot cereals, grits, rice, noodles, pasta, and cooked vegetables. Put olive oil or butter on pasta.
Food Preparation Bread meats and vegetables. Sauté and fry foods. Add sauces or gravies to foods.
Good Snack Ideas Peanut butter and crackers, tortilla chips with cheese sauce, cheese pizza, tortilla chips and bean dip, yogurt with fruit, trail mix*, frozen yogurt, banana chips, chicken or tuna salad, vegetables with dip, milk shakes, pudding or pudding popsicles, cereal with whole milk, peanut butter or oatmeal raisin cookies, tacos, and burritos.
* These foods should not be given to children under 3 years of age or you need to modify (cut up or chop) for safety.

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