From the day my daughter was born (at 4.5 pounds), to the day she turned one year (12 pounds 13 ounces), she remained petite…and by definition “underweight”. The growth charts never let me forget how small she was, or that 99.9% of children her age were bigger than her.
It was tough not to let her growth define my success as her mom.
If my daughter Sienna was growing well, I was succeeding. If she wasn’t gaining weight, I felt like I was failing.
As a big-time foodie myself (I’m Italian!), I couldn’t comprehend how MY little girl wanted nothing to do with food or the dinner table. My underweight daughter was also an “extremely picky eater“. Needless to say, stress levels were sky high.
We were well supported, but I lacked confidence as our pediatrician and specialists urged us to focus on high calorie foods for our daughter who ate so poorly. I cringed when I heard them recommend “milkshakes, french toast, and mayonnaise” as part of their dietary protocol.
I knew high calorie foods were important for my child’s growth. But why wasn’t the focus on foods that offer both quantity and quality of calories?
Growing well is one thing.
Thriving well is another.
As a Certified Holistic Nutritionist I had my own tricks up my sleeve…
High calorie foods for kids should also be high in nutrition.
Even if my little one was ONLY eating a measly mouthful, I knew it could be packed with calories. More importantly, nutrition.
Out of curiosity, I googled “high calorie foods for underweight babies and kids”. The foods listed:
- Ice cream
- Whipping cream
- Cream cheese
Umm, something seems to be missing here…
After multiple failed Google searches, I compiled a list of all the fabulous foods that nourished my daughter over the past 3 years. Below I’ve included a list of 20 high-calorie and nutrient-dense foods (ideal for smaller children…and great for all children).
20 High Calorie Foods for Kids (also nutrient-dense)
|Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin Seed Butter||Seeds – 180 calories per ¼ cup
Butter – 160 calories per 2 tbsp.
|Healthy fats, zinc, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, protein, iron||Replace peanut butter with pumpkin seed butter on toast, crackers, in baking, etc.|
|Chia seeds||80 calories per 1 tbsp.||Calcium, protein, omega-3, fiber, antioxidants, potassium, phosphorus, skin health, digestion, heart health, bone + teeth||Chia seed pudding|
|Tahini||90 calories per 1 tbsp.||Copper, manganese, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, selenium, dietary fiber||Hummus, dressing, cookies|
|Hemp seeds||55 calories per 1 tbsp.||Protein, healthy fats, manganese, iron, thiamine, phosphorus, magnesium, digestion, heart health||Soups, salads, smoothies, dips|
|Coconut oil||117 calories per 1 tbsp.||Healthy fats, caprylic acid, lauric acid||Use for cooking at high temperatures. Coconut milk is also great.|
|Olive oil||119 calories per 1 tbsp||Healthy fats, vitamin E, heart health, anti-inflammatory, digestion, anti-cancer, cognitive function|
|Ghee||120 calories per 1 tbsp||Vitamin A, E, K2, CLA, digestive support, immune support, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer||May be suitable with dairy intolerance - milk protein (casein) is mostly removed.|
|Kefir||160 calories per 1 cup||Protein, probiotics, calcium, antibacterial properties, bone health, digestive health||Smoothies, cooking, ranch dressing|
|Organic egg yolk||55 calories per 1 large||Calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, thiamine, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, vitamins A, D, E and K, EFAs||Note: The yolk contains most of the egg’s nutrition. Soft boil to retain nutrients (and for ease of eating).|
|Salmon||158 calories per 4 oz.||Vitamin B12, B3, B6, D, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus, protein, iodine, heart health, anti-inflammatory|
|Chicken liver||146 calories per 3 oz.||Protein, iron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin A, folate||Liver Pate|
|Turkey||167 calories per 4 oz.||B vitamins, protein, zinc, phosphorus, choline, selenium||Meatballs, meatloaf, nuggets, burgers|
|Grass-Fed Beef||158 calories per 3 oz.||Vitamin B12, B6, B2, protein, niacin, selenium, zinc, and phosphorus. Choline, pantothenic acid, iron, potassium||Note: Contains more antioxidants, omega-3’s, CLA, trace minerals, and vitamins vs. conventional meat|
|Lentils||58 calories per ¼ cup||Molybdenum, folate, fiber, copper, protein, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, heart health, antioxidant||Soups, lentil burgers|
|Sweet potato||180 calories per 1 medium||Vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, fiber, promotes blood sugar balance, anti-inflammatory + antioxidant protection||Pancakes, cookies|
|Avocados||60 calories per ¼ cup cubed||Healthy fats, dietary fiber, vitamin K, folate, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin E, vitamin C||Avocado pudding, guacamole, cookies|
|Blueberries||84 calories per 1 cup||Vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C, fiber, carotenoids, antioxidant, heart health, cognitive benefits, blood sugar balance|
|Goji berries||91 calories in 1 oz.||Protein, over 20 trace minerals, including zinc, iron, phosphorus and vitamin B2. Anti-cancer|
|Dates||70 calories per 1 date||Energy, eye health, fiber, skin health, promotes healthy nervous system, B vitamins, potassium, manganese, iron, copper, magnesium||Add to nut milks, smoothies|
|Nutritional yeast||30 calories per 1 tbsp.||Protein, iron, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, fiber||In “cheese” sauce for pasta|
Instead of overwhelming you with a long list in this post, I created this instant and free download.
So life is very different now.
I’m no longer the mom who panics over my little girl’s growth chart. Nor do I dread trying to get food into her. It took patience, the right foods (see above) and more importantly the right mealtime approach to transform her eating and our family’s happiness.
If you have a little one at home and worry about their weight and/or nutrition, you’re not alone!
Let me leave you with these words of advice (coming from a Certified Nutritionist & a mom who totally gets it):
- Make mealtimes enjoyable (for them and for you too!)
- Implement daytime & mealtime strategies to encourage better eating and improve appetite
- Offer high-calorie AND nutrient-dense foods at every meal and snack
Most importantly, if your little one is healthy and developing well, they likely have the bodies that are right for them.
So, don’t let a percentile define you or them.
When nutrition isn’t the most important
As a Picky Eating Expert, I’d be remiss not to mention this:
When it comes to feeding our little ones, it isn’t just about the nutrition. “Picky eaters” have limited variety so it’s more important that there’s always something they can eat. Nutritious or not. As we help them find enjoyment at mealtimes, they become interested in eating new and nutritious food.
Once we have happy eaters, healthy eaters will follow.
When we’re dealing with underweight children, our approach is even more crucial. Research demonstrates that “babies who are born small have a tendency to become overweight and obese later in life“. This risk factor is top of mind for me, which is why I try hard not to say:
‘One more bite’ or ‘Finish your dinner if you’d like dessert’
Well, these innocent words can teach kids to eat more than they actually need. Today and down the road. This is why I’m committed to showing moms how to create healthy eaters - the right way. Giving our kids control of what and how much they eat, no matter their size. And offering health and growth promoting foods at every meal and snack.