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Did you know that underweight kids have double the risk of becoming overweight or obese when they grow up?
If your toddler is not gaining weight as expected, it may be because of his eating habits. It is essential to offer the right diet and nutrition for your toddler, especially during this critical period of growth + development.
Today I’m talking all about some kid-friendly high-calorie foods to help your toddler gain weight in a healthy way. These high-calorie foods, protein, and healthy fats support growth in children. They also help your child meet their daily nutritional needs without any struggle.
Let’s dive in!
Is My Child Gaining Enough Weight?
While it is important to keep an eye on your child’s weight and nutrition, you don’t need to overreact if your toddler is a few pounds under the ideal weight. Even toddlers that are slightly underweight can have perfectly normal growth trajectories.
I have two small, petite little kids and this was something I worried about ALL THE TIME.
It can be nerve-racking when you go to doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment and each time your kiddo is SO low on the growth chart. BUT that doesn’t always mean they are underweight or not gaining enough weight.
Sometimes kids are just more petite than the average kid their age or sometimes they just haven’t hit a growth spurt when most other kids have!
Here is how you can tell that your child isn’t gaining enough weight:
- They are losing weight
- They are no longer gaining weight at the rate they normally do
When your child is not receiving enough calories daily here are some symptoms you may notice:
- Crying and fussiness
- Lost interest in what’s going on in their environment
- Delay in meeting developmental milestones
If you are concerned your child is not gaining enough weight, you may want to bring this up with your pediatrician at your next well visit.
7 Common Reasons Your Child May Be Underweight
There are many reasons why your child may be underweight – it’s not just all related to calorie intake. Some other causes of poor weight gain include:
- Severe picky eaters
- Premature birth
- Metabolic disorders that cause your child to have difficulty converting food into energy – like hypoglycemia
- A food allergy or intolerance
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Chronic diarrhea
- Household stress
Poor weight gain is usually contributed to a combination of things, but again make sure you are discussing these concerns with your toddler’s pediatrician.
How To Help My Toddler Gain Weight
Determining how to help your child gain weight is going to depend on the cause of their poor weight gain. Regardless, your child’s diet is going to play a major role in helping bump that weight up.
You want to be sure that you are providing a healthy diet, and that you are encouraging your child to eat. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins.
Your child should be eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily. If you are concerned about weight gain I would definitely include the 3rd daily snack – usually a bedtime snack.
These meals and snacks should be packed with extra calories from protein and healthy fats.
Avoid offering a lot of fluids – water, milk, and fruit juices – before mealtime. Toddler tummies are small and drinking a lot of fluid before meals will fill up that little stomach leaving less room for food. Food that is going to provide much more calories and beneficial nutrients to help your child gain weight!
You also want to avoid unhealthy foods and drinks – like sugary drinks and snacks, as well as processed foods. These foods contribute empty calories – meaning they may be high in calories but they lack important nutrients that your child needs for healthy growth and development.
I would also definitely talk with your pediatrician about any concerns you have related to your child’s nutrition. If there is something unusual about their diet or feeding schedule, this might be an indication that they’re not eating enough.
10 Healthy Foods to Help Your Toddler Gain Weight
For some toddlers, gaining weight can be quite a challenge. It’s important to make sure that you are offering your child an adequate amount of healthy foods that are high in protein and fat.
Although there are a lot of foods out there that are high in calories – fast food, processed foods, and sugary foods – these aren’t the best option when trying to help your underweight toddler gain weight because they also come along with a ton of dietary risks!
To help your toddler gain weight there are 10 of the best foods that I would keep a regular part of their day-to-day diet. These healthy weight-gain foods include:
Cheeses are a great source of healthy fats and amino acids which help our body to build protein. Cheese also contains vitamin B12 which is important in brain and nervous system growth + development.
Not to mention the rich supply of calcium which helps to build and maintain strong bones as your toddler continues to grow.
Cheese is super easy to add to your child’s meals throughout the day. You can also serve string cheese or cheese slices as a snack in between meals.
Some toddler favorites are:
- Homemade mac + cheese
- Grilled cheese
Do keep in mind that A LOT of daily cheese can cause constipation, so just make sure to not overdo it. But I would keep cheese in their daily diet.
#2: Whole Milk
Whole milk is a great beverage of choice when you’re trying to pump up your toddler’s weight. Milk is high in protein, fat, and carbohydrates. It also gives that nice boost of calcium – plus a ton of other vitamins + minerals.
When choosing milk for your toddler make sure to choose whole milk or full-fat milk.
Try to offer a glass of milk 1-2 times per day. You can also add it to cereal, use it to make oatmeal, or make a smoothie. You can even make your own milkshakes at home!
#3: Peanut Butter (or Other Nut Butters)
Peanuts (or peanut butter) are rich in protein, healthy fats, and fiber. It really is the gold standard when it comes to healthy weight-gain foods. Plus what kid doesn’t love peanut butter?!
You can add peanut butter to a ton of foods! Here are some toddler-friendly ideas:
- Peanut butter and jammy sandos
- Peanut butter and banana sandos
- Celery and peanut butter
- Peanut butter and pancakes
- Peanut butter and waffles
- Add peanut butter to smoothies
- Add a scoop of peanut butter to breakfast cereal
- Snack on a spoonful of peanut butter
You can of course swap out the peanut butter in any of these ideas with another nut butter.
#4: Full-Fat Yogurt
Full-fat yogurts are not only high in protein and fat but also a rich source of probiotics to help maintain a healthy digestive system. Just like peanut butter, you can often add yogurt to a number of toddler-friendly meals to bump up the healthy calories.
Some toddler favorites include:
- Yogurt parfaits – yogurt, granola, and fruit
- Use it as a dip (we like plain greek yogurt with a little dill + lemon juice)
You can also make yogurt popsicles. I usually blend up some yogurt with a little bit of fruit. Then add them to a popsicle mold.
Make sure when shopping for yogurt to choose full-fat yogurt or yogurt made with whole milk. When unsure just check the ingredients list where it should state what type of milk it was made with.
#5: Cottage Cheese
Full-fat cottage cheese is another great source of healthy fat and protein. Cottage cheese is not the most kid-friendly food, but if you have a toddler who loves it – then serve it up!
If you don’t have a kiddo who likes to get down on some cottage cheese and fruit you can actually bake cottage cheese into a lot of foods. I add cottage cheese to:
- Egg bites
Cottage cheese makes these baked goods 10 times fluffier and you can’t taste the cottage cheese at all. If you’re unsure how to add cottage cheese to meals for your toddler a quick Pinterest search always yields some great recipes.
Meat is an excellent source of protein and fat. Red meat in particular is a bit higher in fat and calories.
Beef brisket is one of the fattier red meats. Brisket shreds pretty easily and can be used to make tacos, bowls, or just eat on its own. Plus it’s easy to make in the slow cooker which is a win for you and your toddler!
Other great meat options for your toddler are:
- Ground beef
My toddler absolutely loves meatballs. They are super versatile and you can make them with ground beef, turkey, chicken, or lamb.
Chunks of meat are considered a choking hazard for toddlers so make sure to serve meat like steak in strips. Ground meat is also always a great way to serve protein.
#7: Oily Fish
Just like meat, oily fish (especially salmon) is a great high-protein and healthy fat food for toddlers to gain weight.
You can do so many different things with salmon – grill, bake, steam, pan fry, pouch, and saute. Salmon cakes seem to be a huge hit with toddlers.
Other oily fish options for toddlers to gain weight include:
When serving fish to your toddler just make sure the fish is low in mercury!
Avocados are a great source of healthy fats and toddlers typically love avocados.
You can serve diced or sliced avocado as a snack. My toddler likes to sprinkle half of the avocado with everything bagel season and then spoon it out of the skin.
You can also make avocado toast or make a dip – like guacamole – for them to dip their food or snacks in.
If you have a kiddo who doesn’t like avocado you can sneak it into a ton of different foods without them noticing – smoothies, pudding, cake, muffins, cookies. Again a quick search on Pinterest will give you a TON of recipes.
Eggs are a go-to breakfast option when you are considering foods to help your toddler gain weight. They are packed with protein and healthy fats – plus choline to support healthy brain growth and development.
Here are some toddler-friendly ideas for eggs:
Make sure when cooking eggs for your toddler that the egg is cooked all the way through!
#10: Healthy Fats + Oils
A quick and easy way to boost the fat in your toddler’s diet is to cook with healthy fats and oils. Healthy fats and oils are one of the most calorie-dense foods there are!
Cook or add healthy fats and oils to your toddler’s dishes to help them gain weight. Some great options are:
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
A small spoonful of butter before naptime and bedtime is also a great calorie boost option!
High-Calorie Meals To Support Healthy Weight Gain In Toddlers
Okay so I’ve given you 10 different high protein and fat foods for toddlers to gain weight, but what can you make with that? That your toddler will actually eat? I’ve got you covered.
Here are some meals you can cook up for your toddler that are high in additional calories, protein, and fat:
- Nut butter toast
- Avocado toast
- Pancakes and nut butter
- Waffles and nut butter
- Smoothies with full-fat yogurt or nut butter
- Acai bowls drizzled with peanut butter
- Scrambled eggs with cottage cheese
- Hardboiled eggs
- Cheesy omelet
- Breakfast quesadilla with guacamole
- Breakfast pizza with ranch
- Egg bites made with cottage cheese – add cheese and meat
- Nut butter and jammy sandwich or roll up
- Burrito bowls – meat, plain greek yogurt, cheese, and avocado can all be added
- Chicken quesadilla with plain greek yogurt and guacamole for dips
- Salmon cakes
- Fish sticks
- Baked chicken tenders or bites
- Spaghetti and meatballs with parmesan cheese
- Chicken or tuna salad sandwiches
- Deli meat and cheese roll-ups
- Salami and cream cheese roll-ups
- Homemade mac and cheese
- Egg salad sandwiches
Does My Child Need A Supplement?
Nutritional high-protein drinks – like Pediasure – may be beneficial if your toddler is having issues with eating enough food to gain weight. You should discuss starting your child on any supplement with your pediatrician before doing so.
Your pediatrician will also be able to run tests to see if your child is deficient in any particular nutrients to where your child would need to take a daily multivitamin or specific nutrient supplement.
In A Nutshell
I hope you now have plenty of meal and snack ideas to help your toddler pack on a few extra pounds. Remember you want to make sure you’re serving at least 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily. You want to offer foods that are high in protein + healthy fats.
If you need some more help with coming up with meal ideas for your toddler you should definitely sign up for my weekly meal ideas newsletter. Every Friday I send out a fresh list of toddler-friendly meal ideas + you get to snag one of my meal plan templates each month for FREE! Sign-up here.
Here’s to raising tiny foodies!
Disclaimer: This blog post is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness or medical condition. Kayece Flood is providing services only in the capacity as a nutritionist, not as a licensed medical or healthcare professional. Working with Raising Tiny Foodies is not a guarantee of any results. Raising Tiny Foodies owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.