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.

Sienna (2 years) with her younger sister (3 months)

Sienna (2 years) showing her younger sister (3 months) some love

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

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:

  • Waffles
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream
  • Whipping cream
  • Crackers
  • 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)

Food Calories Nutrition Punch Tips
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

Get the extended list with 60+ high calorie foods for kids here.

Instead of overwhelming you with a long list in this post, I created this instant and free download.

High calorie foods for kids


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):

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.

High Calorie foods for underweight kids


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 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.

High calorie foods for kids

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.

High calorie foods for kids