At least 4 percent of children and teens are underweight, reports The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Only your child's doctor can tell you if his slight status is normal -- or if it compromises his energy or health. Once you've ruled out any possible health complications, help him achieve a healthy weight by encouraging him to eat more whole, unprocessed foods that contain a lot of vitamins -- as well as other nutrients. Vitamin supplements don't provide calories nor do they stimulate a child's appetite to bring about healthy weight gain. Only calories from foods or beverages will help your child achieve his weight potential.
A Healthy Weight Gain Diet
Your child might gobble down calories in the form of sweets, junk food and processed grains, but these foods offer little nutrients. Without essential nutrients, it's hard for your child to build strong bones, a healthy brain and robust body. The ideal way for your child to get nutrients is from whole foods. Along with specific vitamins, other important components in food -- including antioxidants, fiber, protein, carbohydrates, fats and phytonutrients -- provide nutritional value that you just can't get in a supplement.
Quality Food Choices for Kids' Weight Gain
Healthy foods come from all the major food groups. Quality high-calorie protein foods, such as eggs, nut butter, mashed beans, full-fat milk, cottage cheese and yogurt, help your child's muscles grow strong. Dairy also supports bone health. Starchy vegetables such as corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes as well as brown rice, whole-grain pasta and whole-wheat bread offer carbohydrate calories for energy. Unsaturated fats that come from avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds provide important fatty acids for your child's brain health.
Make these foods kid-friendly. Cut triangles of whole-wheat pita to dip into guacamole or hummus. Get him to try granola instead of corn flakes for a calorie-dense breakfast. Make snacks of dried fruit, such as apples, apricots and raisins. Other high-calorie, nutritious snacks include trail mix, peanut butter sandwiches on soft whole-wheat bread and smoothies made with bananas, strawberries, avocado, yogurt and milk. All of these foods provide vitamins as well as the minerals and macronutrients a child needs to thrive.
Additional Weight Gain Strategies for Kids
Sometimes kids have aversions to certain tastes and textures. Work with your child to find healthy foods he finds pleasing. Go grocery shopping with him and allow him to pick out his own healthy snacks. Enlist your child in the meal preparation process too; even young kids can peel vegetables or spread peanut butter on bread. Regular family meals, rather than grabbing food on the go, can also raise your child's interest in eating. Too much pressure to eat can backfire, though, and discourage him. Offer a variety of healthy options at meals and let him decide what his appetite can tolerate.
Pay attention to the amount of beverages your child drinks daily too. Sometimes kids fill up so much on juice, or even milk, that they aren't hungry for meals.
Supplementing Your Child's Diet
Consult with your child's doctor about using high-calorie supplemental drinks for children who absolutely refuse to try new foods. If you are concerned that your child isn't consuming balanced nutrition through whole foods, also ask about appropriate vitamin supplementation. Your child's age and size help determine the best type of vitamin supplement, including the dosage and mix of nutrients offered. Also seek guidance from your pediatrician or a dietitian on selecting the brand of vitamins; all are not of the same quality or potency.