Despite the obesity epidemic, many children are underweight. Parents often ask how to help a child gain weight in a healthy way. While empty calories from foods high in fat and added sugars might add a few pounds, they will not provide the nutrients a child needs to build strong bones and a healthy body.

How do I know if my child is underweight?

A child is usually considered underweight if they are in the bottom 5th percentile for their weight-to-height ratio. Your child’s pediatrician tracks height and weight on growth charts and should be able to share any declines with you.

If your child is underweight, start by ensuring that most meals and snacks are nutrient-rich. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Drink after a meal, not during. Even water can fill up a little belly, tricking a child into feeling full. Milk and juice are more often the culprit as many toddlers and preschoolers drink so much throughout the day that they aren’t hungry enough for food at mealtime.
  • Set meal and snack times. Kids need to know that mealtime is an important and expected part of their day.
  • Add a snack before bedtime. If the snack is full of healthful fat and protein, the nutrient can build tissue while sleeping.
  • Make fresh guacamole and use as a dip for a snack or spread for sandwiches.
  • Smoothies are a great way to get added calories. Make sure to use full-fat yogurts, nut butters and seeds, plus your favorites fruits for a tasty treat!
  • Hummus and other bean dips make for the perfect snack! They are high in protein and fiber.
  • Granola is a great way to get in extra calories. Use it as a yogurt topping, add it to trail mix, or enjoy it on it’s own.
  • Top it off! Add shredded cheese to broccoli, spread peanut butter on waffles or drizzle a little olive oil over salad for extra calories and nutrition.

Not all calories are created equal. When looking at the best food to feed an underweight child, focus on protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats and fiber too.

20 Healthy, High Calorie Foods:

  1. Avocado
  2. Eggs
  3. Peanut Butter and other nut butters
  4. Hummus
  5. Full-fat (whole) milk
  6. Chicken
  7. Bananas
  8. Dark Chocolate
  9. Yogurt
  10. Cheese
  11. Whole wheat bread
  12. Granola
  13. Salmon
  14. Whole wheat pasta
  15. Beans
  16. Potatoes
  17. Nuts
  18. Tofu
  19. Olive oil
  20. Oats