Feeding a child who seems tinier than their friends is a difficult task. A skipped meal may seem like a wasted opportunity to get more calories. Constant comparison to friends and other siblings is emotionally draining.
If you think your child is small and needs more calories, the first step would be to check with your doctor and have a look at the growth charts. Being low on a growth chart is not an automatic indication of a problem. Some kids are just tiny but if they grow predictably and stay on the same growth curve, they are growing into bodies that are right for them!
If the doctor shares your concern and you indeed need to focus on serving more high-calorie foods to your child, check the list below. Just a few changes to a daily menu may be enough to boost their energy intake.
In general, kids of all sizes need some high-fat options in their diet. Fat, including saturated fat, should not be restricted in kids under 2 and older children should have an option to add fat to their food if they feel like they need extra calories.
In our house, we always have a bottle of olive oil on the table that we add to food sometimes.
NOTE: If you need to be more intentional with high-calorie foods, it may be very tempting to get pushier with food at mealtimes or allow unlimited grazing in between meals snacks. So, before you dive into the menu planning, take these steps to avoid mealtime drama and a further drop in food intake:
- At mealtimes, do not pressure them to take extra bites or try anything they are not ready to eat. Just list the new foods you included and share some neutral background information about them. For example: “This is avocado. It is a little soft and tastes good with a sprinkle of salt on it.”
- Try serving meals family-style, to encourage more interest in eating and curiosity about new foods.
- Keep a meal and snack schedule so that they are hungry for meals. Small kids need to eat every 2-2.5 hours, older children can wait for 3-4 hours between meals and snacks. Here’s a guide to meal schedules for children from babies to age 5.
- Talk to a feeding specialist to make sure you are using the correct feeding strategies.
List of high-calorie options and meal ideas
Oils and fats
Try adding at least some fat to all the meals, especially if your little one is under 2. Mix in olive oil, coconut oil or butter into their purees, soups and veggie stews. Spread some butter on toast before adding other toppings like jam or cheese.
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado and flax oils are great for salads or dipping
- Avocado – try mashing it up and stirring into dishes or adding it to smoothies
Low-fat dairy is not appropriate for kids under 2. If your child does not eat dairy, choose a plant substitute very carefully. Many plant alternatives are very low in fat and calories. Read more here.
- Full fat yogurt
- Full fat milk
- Full fat yogurt with cream on top
- Cheese – add lots of melted cheese on top of foods they already accept and like: toast, pasta, potatoes, veggies.
Nuts and seeds
Whole nuts are a choking hazard and should not be served to kids under 5.
- Peanut butter, oats, and dates energy balls.
- Nut butter smeared on a toast, apple slices, stirred into porridge or added to smoothies
- Flaxseeds to baked goods like muffins and pancakes
Too much fiber can fill the little tummies before they get enough calories, so limit whole grain options to about half of all the grains your child eats. Here are some starchy options that are high in calories:
- White pasta
- Bread, especially bagels
- Mashed potatoes
- Baked beans
- White rice
Try to include high calories dips, especially if you are serving fruit and veggies for snacks, to add calories and make meals more interactive.
- Ranch dressing
Fruit and vegetables
Include a variety of fruit and veggies, with a focus on more caloric-dense options. Think about which dried fruit and starchy root vegetables your child may enjoy. Here are a few choices:
- Raisins and other dried fruit
- Sweet potatoes
What high-calorie foods does your child like the most?