In today’s society, we are concerned with obesity in children but there are also children who are underweight and would benefit from eating more. Some parents may be tempted to feed their children with high calorie foods to boost the child’s weight, but eating wisely is important as children have small stomachs and should consume calories that are of good nutrition. Here are 12 healthy foods that can help young children to gain weight!
#1 Nutritious carbohydrates
Instead of feeding more white rice, opt for more nutritious options such as potatoes, pumpkin and other root vegetables. While whole grains are high in fiber and associated with a lower likelihood of colon cancer and heart disease, it is difficult for a young child to digest and may make the child feel too full quickly. Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, cause spikes in sugar level. Parents should therefore aim to slowly transition to whole grains by the time the child is five years of age, and encourage the consumption of carbohydrates from plant sources.
Yoghurt is suitable for young children as they are easy to eat, chilled and boost the gastrointestinal health of the child. However, there are many sugary options which are very high in artificial sugars and flavorings. Start the child from young with plain flavor.
Omega 3 is proven to help with many aspects of a child’s growth, including the development of the central nervous and cardiovascular systems, eye function and absorption of nutrients. If your child finds the taste too fishy, try out recipes such as salmon fish cakes (coated with oven-baked home-made bread crumbs) or try out omega 3 supplements that are non-sugar coated.
Beans are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. Proteins help with muscle development and overall growth of the child. They can be made more appealing (and higher calories) when mixed with grated cheese, or stirred into soups. You can even oven bake chick peas and serve as a snack!
#5 Energy-dense fruits
Fruits such as bananas and avocadoes are packed with calories, vitamins and easy to eat. They can be eaten on its own, made into smoothies or served as a side dish or dessert.
Most children like eggs, either as scrambled eggs, omelet or hard-boiled. Eggs can also be added into French toast. Eggs are considered high quality proteins as they are rich in minerals and vitamins, including minerals essential for growth such as calcium, iron and magnesium.
Cheese sticks make great snacks as they are high in calcium for bone growth and tasty! Be careful though on what you pair it with – opt for biscuits that are low in salt. The cheese itself is savory and there is no need to pair it with another snack that is high in sugar or salt. Grated cheese can also be added to many dishes, such as potato pie, salad and soups.
#8 Whole milk
For a child that is underweight, it is best to stick to whole milk option. Consult with the doctor before replacing with the low fat option. Whole milk can also be incorporated into dishes such as mashed potatoes, pies and soups.
#9 Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats which help with the ‘good’ cholesterol. Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds generally make a healthy snack and are appealing to children who like crunchy snacks. However, check with the doctor on possible allergy risk. If your child is young and may choke on the nuts or seeds, you may want to opt for almond nut butter or incorporate the powder form into smoothies instead.
#10 Add-on options
One way of adding calories for the child without doing so for the rest of the family is to have the additional calories as an add-on. For instance, the child’s bread sticks can be dipped into extra peanut butter or cream cheese. Steamed vegetables can be served with melted butter or cheese for the child who needs the extra calories.
Oatmeal contain iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A and B. For younger children, you can use a smoother version such as ground oats and mix with whole milk and sweeter fruits such as bananas.
#12 Right fluids
The amount of fluids to take depends in part on the weather and the activities that the child engages in. However, caffeinated drinks, sugar drinks and energy drinks are to be avoided. Choose plain water, chilled water, home-made lemonade or barley. If taking sugary drinks, always dilute them (start from ratio of one part juice, ten parts water to see if your child can tolerate the bland version). Sugar damages the child’s teeth and taking it during meal time reduces the chance of tooth decay. Moreover, for an underweight child, too much fluids can cause the child to fill full and reduce intake of nutritious calories.
A note on eating habits
Here are some pointers to remember when feeding your child, including picky eaters:
– Eat smaller meals, rather than adult-portion three meals a day
– Avoid sugary treats as rewards
– Avoid turning meal times into battle grounds – parents’ duty is to offer varied nutritious foods, not to force-feed the child
– Minimum five portions of different fruits and vegetables a day
– Reduce saturated fats found in processed foods and fast foods
– Introduce new foods at a family dinner, for all family members to experience
– Assign simple cooking jobs for the child to participate
– Keep the child active (which improves appetite) but check on the type of physical activities for underweight children
If the child continues to be underweight despite taking in more calories, check with the doctor on any underlying health conditions.