How to Help Your Child Gain Weight
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
If you are the parents of a picky eating child, you are well acquainted with the frustrations that meal times bring. To make matters worse, often those same parents will hear their paediatricians tell them that their child is failing to grow adequately or needs to gain weight faster. That is all well and good, but how do you get your child to gain weight or catch up to their growth potential when they won’t eat anything but plain pasta?!
Please know that you’re not alone. I’ve worked with many parents in this same situation and although it can be hard and take time, it is possible to slowly introduce new foods to your child. Broadening anyone’s palate can take time, so approaching this process with patience and persistence is important.
In my view, the first and most important thing to establish in your home is food roles. The Division of Responsibility in feeding is the gold standard resource for feeding children, developed by go-to authority and dietitian Ellyn Satter. This model outlines what our food role as parents is as well as the food role of our children.
→ We choose the food (both groceries and meals)
→ We choose where they eat (in front of the TV, at the table, outside etc.)
→ We provide regular meals and snacks
→ Allow our children to grow into the body that is right for him/her
→ Eat the amount they need
→ Learn to eat the food you eat
→ Learn good mealtime manners and behaviour
Allowing your child to eat the amount they desire is probably the hardest part of this process. However, pressuring children to eat does not teach them to listen to their bodies and only serves to increase picky eating tendencies and keep caloric intake low. Try to avoid saying things like “you can only have a cookie after you finish your rice”. By saying this, we inadvertently tell our children that the dessert food is more special and better tasting than their entree. This doesn’t mean your child is entirely in charge, only that they can choose how much to eat from their plate. As the parent, you still set their eating routine, ensure they aren’t distracted by screens during the meal, and choose the foods being served. To make life easier and more manageable, serve only one meal for everyone and serve the foods you want your child to eat.
This means, that if you are currently making a separate meal for your pickier eating child, it’s time to stop. Simply offer the same food as everyone else, but be sure that it includes at least one component that you know they will eat. For my son, that means making sure that yogurt, fruit, rice or pasta is available during a meal. These foods are guaranteed to be eaten which makes me feel more comfortable with his intake and nutrition. Be aware that addressing picky eating is about the long game and that these strategies are useful for long-term success. Initially, you may see a decrease in your child’s intake which doesn’t help with short-term weight gain goals. To really help with this, you’ll need to introduce high calorie, energy-dense foods to their diet. Of course, you could give them fries and cake to get their weight up but it wouldn’t really help with the picky eating. To address both, choose whole foods in small amounts that pack a punch. Here are some practical strategies:
Add butter or oil to their foods
Butter their bread, pasta, rice, crackers etc.
Add nut butter whenever possible
Added to bread, wraps, crackers. Swirled into oatmeal, on pancakes and waffles.
Add avocado to foods like breakfast wraps and quesadillas. Smashed into guacamole with pita chips and veggies.
Use higher fat meat like dark chicken, fatty fish and red meat.
Use full-fat dairy products like 3.25% milk, 6% yogurt and full-fat cheese.
Add cheese to food! Sprinkled on veggies and grains.
Add hummus to food
Make smoothies and add oats, dates, frozen fruit, nut butters etc.
Add cream to sauces
High-calorie Snack Ideas
Banana with peanut butter rolled up in a whole wheat wrap
Apples dipped in yogurt with cinnamon
Apple sandwiches → cut rounds and fill with peanut butter and granola
Cheesy toast with guacamole
If your child is on a special diet, has allergies or intolerances, speak with a dietitian to help balance their diet using foods that are safe for them. With a little time and persistence, your child will get there!
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