Weight is often a sensitive issue for girls. Underweight girls may have difficulty gaining pounds because of growth spurts, sports or a high metabolism. Helping the girl in your life make the right food choices may add a few pounds to her thin frame, but encourage her to love the body she has to improve her self-image and sense of self-esteem. Consult your pediatrician or a dietitian to assist in designing a weight-gain diet plan specific for your girl's needs.
Pack in the Nutrition
Even though your girl is underweight, she still needs to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet for proper growth and development. Keep her energized with nutritious carbs such as dense whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, peas, bananas and grapes. Protein supports muscle and tissue growth, so power up with eggs, nut butter, cheese, yogurt, hummus, poultry and other meats. Fats are a good way to add extra calories; you can up your daughter's vitamin and mineral intake with nutrient-dense fats such as avocados, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils such as olive oil.
Calories are key for weight gain, and your daughter's needs depend on body size, age and activity. In general, calories needs for girls 4- to 12-years-old range from 1,200 to 2,200 calories, depending on activity level. To gain weight, your daughter needs to eat more calories than her body needs.
While you're working on improving the quality of your daughter's diet, add calories here and there to bump up her intake. While variety is important for overall health, increasing calorie and protein intake is necessary for weight gain. A healthy oil -- such as olive oil -- with 45 calories per teaspoon, is a good way to add calories to morning scrambled eggs, sauteed veggies, meats, salads and pasta. Nonfat dried milk powder adds both calories and protein, with 27 calories and 3 grams of protein per tablespoon. Mix the milk powder into moist foods such as oatmeal, yogurt, soup, scrambled eggs, stews, milk, fruit smoothies, pudding or mashed potatoes. Making sure your girl meets her daily milk needs, 2 1/2 to 3 cups a day, not only helps up calorie intake but also supplies the calcium she needs for healthy bone growth. Add nuts or dried fruit to salad and grain dishes and top sandwiches with cheese or avocados to maximize the calories in every bite.
Weight-Gain Meal Plan for Girls
Include three meals and three snacks in your girl's weight-gain diet plan, so she's eating every three to four hours. A two-egg omelet with 1/2 cup of diced red and green peppers cooked in 1 tablespoon of oil and topped with 1 ounce of Swiss cheese served with two slices of whole-whole wheat toast and a cup of whole milk makes a good high-calorie, high-protein breakfast for your daughter. For a mid-morning snack, a large banana with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter works well.
Pack in the nutrition and the calories at lunch and stuff a 6-inch whole-wheat pita with 3 ounces of turkey and 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise and serve with 1/2 cup of carrot sticks, a large apple and a 6-ounce container of low-fat yogurt with 1 tablespoon of nonfat dried milk powder. After school, offer a cup of whole-grain unsweetened cereal with 1 cup of whole milk for a mid-afternoon snack.
Your daughter might enjoy a 6-inch corn tortilla filled with 3 ounces of ground turkey sauteed in taco seasoning and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil with 1/2 cup of brown rice mixed with 1/2 cup of black beans and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and served with roasted corn on the cob. A quarter-cup of oil-roasted mixed nuts is packed with calories and protein and makes a good snack to end the day. If your daughter enjoys dried fruit, mix in raisins or dried apricots for extra calories.
This sample meal plan has approximately 2,800 calories.
Foods to Limit
Certain foods and drinks may affect your daughter's appetite and should be limited, according to the Center for Young Women's Health. Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, lattes, cola and energy drinks should be avoided. These types of drinks offer no nutritional value, and too much caffeine in a young girl's diet may affect neurological and cardiovascular development. Also, sugar-free foods and drinks and low-carb and low-fat foods should be limited, because they may fill your daughter up without providing enough calories to promote weight gain.
Singling out your daughter may also decrease her desire to eat, so don't prepare special meals just for her. Instead, make meals for the whole family that are easily modified to up the calories in her serving, such as adding nonfat dried milk powder to your daughter's portion of macaroni and cheese, oil to the pasta for spaghetti and meatballs or cheese to her hamburger. She also may eat better if you include her in the meal-planning process or ask her to help find recipes she might enjoy. It also helps if you create a pleasant meal time environment. Offer the food, but don't get upset if she doesn't eat.
- Center for Young Women's Health: Promoting Healthy Weight Gain In Your Underweight Teen: A Guide for Parents
- University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: The Exchange List System for Diabetic Meal Planning
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Safe Weight Gain Tips for Kids
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Nutrient Database: Milk, Dry, Nonfat, Regular Without Added Vitamin A and Vitamin D
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Nutrient Database: Nuts, Mixed, Oil Roasted, Without Peanuts, Without Added Salt
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: MyPlate Daily Checklist: 2,200 Calorie Diet
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: MyPlate Checklist: 1,200 Calorie Diet
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Clinical Report–Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?