Inside: Discover effective ways to help your child gain weight quickly and healthily. From nutrient-dense foods to exercise tips, learn how to support their growth.

We spend so much time talking about childhood obesity, we often forget that there is a group of kids out there who need to gain weight.

grilled cheese sandwich
A grilled cheese sandwich is an easy way to sneak in an extra 200 calories, just by buttering both sides of the bread.

My kid is one of them. What if your child needs to add calories and gain weight? And what if they are not huge fans of eating? Mine isn’t.

1. How Many Calories a day to Gain Weight?

According to my college professors and the Mayo Clinic, an lb is 3500 calories.

To determine weight loss or gain, please talk with your child’s doctor. They can give you an estimate of how many calories your child is burning per day.

The simple math is this: If you can create a 500-calorie surplus each and every day, that’s a pound per week.

dairy products tend to be high in calories
Dairy products are going to be the easiest way to increase calories for a child.

2. Why a Child May not be Gaining Weight

If your child is affected by any of the below items, please seek a physician’s advice. You want to develop healthy eating preferences early.

  • medications
  • ARFID (in this case, please seek a physician’s advice!)
  • food preferences
  • texture preferences
  • feeding issues/mechanics
  • excessive activity during the day (stimming/bouncing)
  • disease process/disability
  • picky eating that is not easily overcome
  • dental issues

Aren’t we lucky that we get to check almost all of these boxes?

3. Underweight Kids: See a Doctor.

Remember, I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. You should always talk with a professional doctor or nutritionist before beginning any changes in your child’s diet.

You should also go with your gut, especially if your child is diagnosed with a disability. So often, moms hear “He’ll eat when he’s hungry!” and that may not be the case.

My son has been to feeding clinics, feeding therapy, and 2 or 3 different dietitians. I’ve lost track. If he doesn’t gain some weight within the next few months, talk of a feeding tube will be on the agenda.

He’s having no part of Ensure or those shakes.

With his team, I’ve come up with a list of foods that have 100 calories or more. I am trying to sneak these into him 5 times a day. This is in addition to the foods I can already get him to eat.

Many of these high-calorie foods are dairy products. If your child is allergic to dairy, you’ll have to speak with your pediatrician. And, excessive dairy intake can cause digestive issues, so you want to address that with your doctor before changing your child’s diet.

4. High-Calorie Vegetables

If you want your child to still eat fruits and vegetables, they can. Simply substitute high-calorie vegetables for low-calorie ones.

Some high-calorie vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and avocados. These vegetables are also rich in other nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

5. High-Calorie Fruits

If you’re trying to figure out how to get a picky toddler to gain weight, I feel that it’s easier when they are toddlers as compared to older kids. And just like above, avoid low-calorie fruits and offer high-calorie ones instead.

Some high-calorie fruits include bananas, mangoes, grapes, cherries, and avocados. These fruits are also rich in other important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

6. How to Add 500 Calories a Day

Each of the items listed below has approximately 100 calories.

Hopefully, your child is not allergic to dairy products, because whole milk, cream, butter, and whole yogurt are going to be some of the easiest ways to get your child to add 500 calories a day.

There is a supplement shake called Kate Farms that is gf, cf and vegan. But it’s not very tasty.

Add 5 of them to your child’s normal day, and boom! 500 calories added!

  • butter-102 calories per tablespoon
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 20 M&Ms
  • 1 medium banana
  • 2 Oreos
  • half an avocado (going to try guacamole on chips)
  • 5 Hershey kisses
  • 20 Wilbur buds (local chocolate)
  • 2 tablespoons of heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of real mayo
  • switch to whole milk (about 90 vs. 150 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 oz of most cheeses
  • 8 oz of whole chocolate milk=200 calories
  • most Ensure plus and Boost plus are 350 calories per 8 oz

Keep in mind, my son’s issues are his and his alone. Right now we are just trying to get him to eat, eat regularly, and bulk up a bit. When we get there, we’ll work on nutrition.

What I have listed above is hardly the healthiest food on the planet, but we are going to be adding it to healthy things. I make homemade pasta sauce and homemade tomato soup (from tomatoes that I grow!). I bake our own bread and source most things locally.

While it may seem horrific just to slather butter on things, this is on top of a mostly healthy diet.

My son also eats a ton of carbs/starches, which will affect his diet. As I said, please see your doctor and run this past them with your concerns.

7. How to Make a Child Gain Weight

Building on the list above, I just have to do 4 or 5 of those things each day. There are many ways to sneak calories into food for your child.

  1. Add a T of butter or mayo to the inside when making grilled cheese. Don’t just butter the outside of the bread.
  2. He eats oatmeal and cream of wheat for breakfast. I can stir in a T of honey or heavy cream.
  3. Add a T of heavy cream into tomato soup, or most soups.
  4. Add an extra slice of cheese to his grilled cheese.
  5. When making macaroni and cheese, stir in a few extra ounces of cheese or use heavy cream instead of milk.
  6. Buy all whole milk cheeses.
  7. Make oatmeal and cream of wheat with whole milk instead of skim or water.
  8. Set alarms to remind me to interrupt him for an extra snack. Give chocolate or Oreos.
  9. Switch to whole milk yogurt.
  10. He eats applesauce, I can stir in a T of honey. (I actually make my own applesauce with local apples that I pick myself. Yes, really.)
  11. Add a slice of cheese or T of butter to scrambled eggs. Try to squeeze in one more egg for 75 extra calories!
  12. Get in the habit of “doubling” everything-add more syrup, honey, and peanut butter to things he already eats.

I also would encourage you to talk to your child’s behaviorists about this. For example, I am giving chocolate as a treat, separately. I will not be giving it at the end of a meal for dessert.

This could encourage him to not eat any healthy items and hold out for the chocolate.

how to gain weight using a pile of apples on a scale

8. Supplements to Help a Child Gain Weight

Yes, we also use Ensure and Boost. Both are about 350 calories per 8 oz.

If your child dislikes the taste of these drinks, consider using them to make smoothies or oatmeal instead.

Please talk with your doctor before beginning any supplement with your child.

9. 500 Calorie Snacks for Weight Gain

Some 500-calorie snacks include:

  • 1 cup of trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
  • 1 apple with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and a small piece of cheese
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs with 1 cup of mixed vegetables and 2 tablespoons of hummus
  • 1 small avocado with 1 slice of whole-grain toast and 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1 small smoothie made with 1 banana, 1 cup of frozen berries, 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt, and 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese with 1 cup of sliced peaches and a handful of almonds
calories to gain weight

10. High Calorie Foods for Picky Eaters

This may require that you change the meal plans for your whole family, and watch other family members for weight gain. But here are some high-calorie food options that are also healthy and good for you.

Some healthy high-calorie foods include nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocados, dried fruit, coconut oil, olive oil, whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, full-fat dairy products, fatty fish like salmon, and lean protein sources like chicken and turkey.

It’s important to choose high-calorie foods that are also nutrient-dense and provide a range of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients to support overall health.