A child who is underweight due to a chronic medical condition, genetics, poor appetite or picky eating habits is at risk of low energy and illness. Your child's doctor can help you determine whether she needs to gain weight. Aim to supplement your child's diet with whole foods as much as possible, but in some cases a commercial supplement may be necessary.
Support for Whole Foods
The goal of weight-gain supplements is to help your child gain lean body mass. A study published in a 2003 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition" found that children who get their calories from animal sources grow better. In the study, underweight Kenyan children who received a meat or milk supplement gained considerably more muscle mass than those who did not receive a supplement. For a homemade, high-protein supplement, try increasing your child's serving size of meat at dinner, offering natural cold cuts at snack time or whipping up a supplemental smoothie containing whole-milk yogurt and bananas. Cottage cheese, cheese and eggs are other animal-sourced proteins that can act as weight-gain supplements. High-fat foods, such as butter, peanut butter, whipping cream and cream cheese, can also be added to foods to increase calorie intake.
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If your child has little appetite or interest in eating, offer small, high-calorie meals throughout the day rather than three large meals. These may consist of full-fat yogurt, a handful of dried fruit or a few cubes of cheese. You'll be taking advantage of your child's natural tendency to graze, which may put less pressure on him to eat large portions at mealtime.
Sometimes whole foods just aren't convenient or may not be enough. In these cases, prepackaged weight gain supplements that offer a full array of vitamins and minerals, as well as additional protein and carbohydrates, are a good go-to option. Available in kid-friendly packaging, the calories are usually concentrated in these products so kids don't become overwhelmed by the volume. You'll find premixed cartons or bottles, powdered drink mixes and even high-calorie pudding supplements that may appeal to your child. Substitute them for a regular juice box at lunch or breakfast, add them to a smoothie with fresh fruit or pour them over granola for a big calorie boost.
Avoid supplementing your child's diet with nutritionally void sugary foods such as soda and candy. Although these supply calories, they don't contribute important nutrients, such as protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, that stimulate muscle and brain growth. If your child is on a serious weight-gain regimen, check in regularly with your doctor to monitor his progress. When he reaches a healthy weight, you may cut back on the supplements to prevent him from becoming overweight.
- Northern Territory Government: Nutrition Supplements for Children 1-5
- Nestle Health Science: Weight Gain & Maintenance Nutrition
- UC Davis Cancer Center and UC Davis Children's Hospital: How to Help Your Child Gain Weight
- Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children: High-Calorie, High-Protein Diet
- Journal of Nutrition: Food Supplements Have a Positive Impact on Weight Gain and the Addition of Animal Source Foods Increases Lean Body Mass of Kenyan Schoolchildren