If your son is underweight, but he's active and eats in a healthy manner, he simply may have a slender frame based on genetics. Offering him a variety of foods will ensure he’s getting the nutrients he needs to grow and develop. Whether he's a toddler or a teen, work higher-calorie foods into your son's diet to maximize his growth and weight gain. If you have concerns about your son's diet, speak with his pediatrician.
Filling Your Toddler's Tummy
Help your tot gain weight by serving snacks throughout the day. A toddler’s tummy can’t hold a lot of food, so he physiologically can't eat as much as older kids or adults. Serving him foods that pack a lot of calories into a small volume helps maximize the calories in every bite he eats. Add butter or oil to mashed potatoes, oatmeal, scrambled eggs and cooked vegetables to boost calories. Mix a tablespoon of dry milk powder into his whole milk, pudding and other moist foods.
Small snacks -- evenly spaced between meals -- can help your child receive the nutrients and calories he needs while still allowing him to work up an appetite for meals. Offer high-calorie snacks such as a slice of cheese or 1/2 a piece of toast smeared with peanut butter and jam. Blend him a smoothie with 1/2 cup full-fat yogurt, 1/2 a banana and a smidge of cocoa powder.
Don't allow your toddler to sip on milk or juice throughout the day, because it may dull his appetite for whole foods. Consider offering his milk after he’s eaten his meal. If you're having trouble getting your toddler to eat, speak to his pediatrician or a registered dietitian.
Help Your Preschooler Put on Pounds
Serve your preschooler calorie-dense, nutrient-dense foods -- ones that provide more calories and nutrients than other foods of a comparable serving size. Like toddlers, preschoolers have small stomachs so getting a lot of calories in small amounts of food is beneficial for weight gain. Serve peanut butter or nut butter as a dip for fruits and vegetables or on top of granola bars for snack time. Put butter on your child’s toast or biscuits, let him dip baby carrots in Ranch dressing and add extra mayonnaise to tuna and chicken salads.
Sneak calories into your preschooler’s favorite meals to encourage weight gain. Sprinkle shredded cheese on scrambled eggs, pasta or veggies. Top his baked potato with sour cream, or add a tablespoon of powdered milk or olive oil to his serving of soup or casserole. Spread extra mayo on his sandwich or add olive oil and chopped meat to his portion of spaghetti sauce. Top his waffles or pancakes with a scoop of ice cream or whip up a smoothie using lemon Greek yogurt, whole milk, 1/2 a banana and a bit of vanilla extract.
Pack in Calories For Your School-Aged Son
Getting involved in meal planning may help your school-aged son take more interest in food. Take him grocery shopping and let him help plan menus, choose snacks and load the cart. In the kitchen, kindergarteners can help wash produce and mix ingredients with a little adult supervision. Older boys can peel vegetables and assemble and measure ingredients.
Set aside specific mealtimes that are pleasant and unhurried, and allow your son to see you eating a variety of healthy foods. Add calories to whatever he's eating. Stir peanut butter into his oatmeal or spread it on a waffle and sprinkle with dried cranberries. Add an extra slice of cheese to his sandwich and spread chopped meats and black olives on homemade pizza. Drizzle his serving of pasta with olive oil before adding sauce. Toss potato chunks in oil, bake, and serve with ketchup. Add powdered milk to his serving of soup, casserole or pancake batter. And let him indulge in special treats, like milkshakes or ice cream, for dessert.
For snacks, have your child mix granola with full-fat yogurt and berries, or make homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Let him pour smoothie ingredients into the blender, such as whole milk, peanut butter and a banana.
Weight-Gain Tips for Teen Guys
To start the day right, get your teen out of bed in time for breakfast and make him a meal he can’t refuse. Whip up whole-grain pancakes with butter and syrup or waffles with peanut butter and raisins. Cook scrambled eggs with cheese, a side of hash browns and toast with cream cheese and jam. Cook oatmeal with whole milk or half-and-half, and stir in honey, pure maple syrup or mashed banana for extra calories. Or, for an on-the-go smoothie, blend whole milk, 2 tablespoons of powdered milk, a tablespoon of coconut oil, orange juice and a frozen banana.
Your teen probably eats several meals a week away from home, so teach your teen to eat his entrée first at lunch and dinner, and to choose protein foods such as chicken, beef, eggs or beans. When he eats at home, offer him healthy fats to add to his meals, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Encourage him to drink milk with meals, even chocolate milk if he prefers it. Keep protein-filled, calorie-dense snacks on hand such as hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, whole milk, Greek yogurt and cheese. Make sure he gets carbs at each meal, too -- whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, sweet potatoes, corn and peas. If your son enjoys salad, add calorie-rich toppings such as olives, cheese and avocado. Fruits make easy-to-carry snacks to stash in his backpack, and dried fruits and nuts make an especially high-calorie combo to give him energy for sports or band practice after school.
- American Heart Association: Dietary Recommendations for Healthy Children
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Safe Weight Gain Tips for Underweight Kids
- California Department of Public Health: Promoting Healthy Weight Gain
- Cincinnati Children's Blog: How to Increase Calories in Your Underweight Child's Diet
- University of California Davis Medical Center: How to Help Your Child Gain Weight