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Weight: Helping Your Child Gain Weight

What should I do if my child is not gaining weight?

If your child seems to be gaining weight too slowly, you should take your child to your healthcare provider for a check-up. There are many reasons why your child may be underweight:

  • Not eating enough food
  • A health problem that may cause your child to gain weight slowly or not at all
  • A food allergy that causes an upset stomach
  • Stress
  • Too much exercise
  • Lack of interest in eating due to anxiety, depression, another mental health problem, or an eating disorder

Your provider can help you figure out why your child is having trouble gaining weight.

When children are underweight, they may need to eat more fats and calories for a short time than normally recommended in a healthy diet. Your provider can also advise you about physical activity for your child. The right amount of exercise can help to increase your child’s appetite.

How can I add calories to my child's diet?

If your provider has recommended a high-calorie diet, here are some ways to add extra calories.

For Babies

You can add calories to formula or breast milk. Ask your provider for instructions on how to make a high-calorie milk that is safe for your baby.

For Children

For children old enough to eat solid foods you can:

  • Add powdered milk or instant breakfast drinks to milk to increase the calorie content. Cow's milk can be given to a child after age 1.
  • Add cheese, meats, or sour cream to eggs.
  • Add peanut butter to starchy foods and vegetables. Do not give peanuts to children under 4 years of age. Peanuts may cause choking in young children.
  • Mix cheese, avocados, ground beef, or sour cream with refried beans and serve it with chips, crackers, or tortillas.
  • Make a tuna sandwich with mayonnaise.
  • Add avocado slices to sandwiches, salads, or chips.
  • Serve pasta with meat, meatballs, or cream sauces.
  • Add cheese or butter to vegetables.
  • Feed your child more potatoes. French fries, tater tots, mashed potatoes with butter and sour cream will provide many calories.
  • Serve bread or biscuits with butter, honey, cheese, or cream cheese.
  • Serve dessert. Many desserts have lots of calories. Ice cream with all the fixings is a great way to end a meal. Or give your child an ice cream milkshake. Shakes can be made with yogurt and fruit for extra nutrition and calories.
  • Snacking is a part of healthy weight gain. Try yogurt with crunchy cereal added, fruit wafers, graham crackers, crackers with cheese, mini sandwiches and burritos, milkshakes made with frozen yogurt or ice cream, dried fruits, trail mix, vegetables dipped in salad dressing, and nuts.

When your child is on a special diet, always work closely with your child's healthcare provider. Eating a high calorie diet for too long can lead to too much weight gain.

Written by Robert M. Brayden, MD, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2016-05-11
Last reviewed: 2018-05-09
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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