Types of Foods to Help Your Underweight Child Regain Balance
Food & Nutrition
While there is a common perception that all babies and children should be round and chubby, parents may find that their child’s weight appear to be decreasing or stagnant at some stages of growth.
A way for parents to keep track of their child’s weight is to refer to the charts in their child’s health booklet which can serve as a benchmark. Key symptoms to look out for is any sudden weight loss, if the child belongs to the less than 3rd percentile category, and if there is a sudden fall on the weight percentile chart.
If you are concerned that your child might be underweight, consult your paediatrician.
Assuming that the child has no underlying medical concerns that require treatment, the main goal will be to provide the child with adequate nutrition to gain some weight and achieve the ideal weight. This nutritional therapy often entails getting your child to take in more calories.
What should my child consume?
Parents should include foods that are high caloric and nutrient dense as part of their child’s diet as these foods are rich in important vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Avoid falling into the trap of serving ‘junk’ foods, or foods with empty calories such as soft drinks, candy, chips, and fast foods.
A varied, well balanced diet is the key to your child's weight gain and healthy development. Such diet should contain foods from the four main food groups as follows:
Grains and carbohydrates: Examples include bread, rice, pasta, cereal, potatoes and yam
Fruits and vegetables
Protein foods: Examples include meat, poultry, eggs, beans, seeds, and nuts
Dairy products: Milk, cheese and yoghurt, provide calcium which is important for your child's growing teeth and bones
The below table will serve as a sample of what are some of the high caloric food choices from the above food groups:
Food choices and application
Use as a side for meals or add to soup
Serve with one of the suggested spreads below (butter or nut butter)
Pancakes (whole-meal or white flour based)
Serve as breakfast, and top up with other items e.g. yoghurt, banana or other fruits
Potato and sweet potato
Serve mashed as a side for meals, or use in soups
Serve pasta with cream sauce or butter with cheese and ground meat
Fruits and vegetables
Eat as a snack, topping for cereal or pancakes, blend into a smoothie with milk
Mash avocado and use it as a dip, or slice them to add into sandwiches
Dried fruits e.g. raisins, cranberries
Mix them into cereal, yoghurt, or cooked vegetables e.g. carrots and sweet potato, or serve as a snack
Serve during breakfast, add to baked goods, or use as batter for french toast. Layer calories into scrambled eggs by cooking in butter and adding cheese on top
Nut butter (e.g. peanut)
Use creamy peanut butter and spread thinly over bread or crackers, or as a dip with fruits or vegetables
*Avoid if there are any concerns over nut allergy, and avoid those butters with chunky nuts in view of the risk of choking
Add ground or chopped meats to soups and pasta
Full cream milk
Use milk instead of water to make soups, bulk up mashed potatoes, or serve as a beverage or snack
Whole milk yoghurt
Use as a dip with fruits or vegetables, mix into smoothie, or serve as a snack
Cheese e.g. Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella
Use as a topping for sandwiches, soups, scrambled eggs, potatoes, or serve as a snack
Serve as a spread with bread or crackers
Oils e.g. Canola, Olive, Coconut oil
Toss with pasta or drizzle over cooked vegetables and noodles
Spread with bread, melt onto pasta or cooked vegetables
Use to sweeten smoothies, or mix into cereal.
*Avoid feeding toddlers who are less than a year old
At times, a consultation with your paediatrician may suggest a referral to a dietician. The dietician will be able to advise and work with you to develop an customised feeding plan that meets the needs of both your child and the family.
How often should my child eat?
Young children have naturally smaller tummies and therefore unable to eat a large amount of food in one sitting. As such, apart from your child's three main meals, your child will require two or three snacks during the day. It is important to structure the meals and snacks evenly in order to avoid constant eating and drinking throughout the day, and to help ensure that every bite your child takes count!
Are nutritional supplements recommended?
If your child is a fussy eater and refuses to add the above recommended food to his/her diet or adapt to the changes, your paediatrician may recommend a high-caloric milk formula, or supplement in a drink form to be taken as a snack. In some cases, the paediatrician may recommend a multivitamin and mineral supplement instead.
Developing a healthy attitude to food is key!
It can be a stressful process helping your child to achieve the recommended weight but parents ought to always remember help them guide their child into developing a healthy attitude to food. Eating should still be a fun and happy part of the day!
Some suggestions for parents is to cultivate the habit of siting down as a family and to have meals together and take your time with mealtimes with no rush so that your child can enjoy the food and company. Parents can also try to engage the child in meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation to encourage his or her overall interest in food and eating. A food diary can also come in handy to keep track of what the child’s food intake is.