If you have an underweight toddler who’s fallen off their growth curve, these healthy foods for toddlers to gain weight may help. They’re high in calories, nutrient-dense, and often make the rest of their meal taste a whole lot more delicious!
How to Know if a Child Needs to Gain Weight
It’s important to know whether your child is, in fact, in need of dietary modifications to increase their weight before you start trying to add calories and/or fat to their diet, so let’s start there.
Is your child meeting milestones, gaining some weight (even if not a lot), and seeming generally happy and content? Are they following their own growth curve? If the answers to those are yes, you very likely can relax about their size and continue to allow them to follow their own hunger cues.
Just because a child is in a lower percentile for growth doesn’t mean they need to be made bigger. And just because a child is larger, doesn’t mean they need to be made smaller.
Kids, like adults, can be healthy at every size.
If, on the other hand, you have a child who’s fallen off of their own growth curve for a length of time (sometimes kids fall off at one checkup and are then fine at the next, so I’d urge you not to rush into this), is going through a medical issue where they have a more limited diet, or you’re looking for nutritious ways to add more sustenance to their food—to help them stay fuller longer—these foods should help.
Food for Toddlers to Gain Weight
Here are some of the best high-calorie and high-fat foods that are great sources of nutrition too.
- Avocado Oil
- Almond Butter
- Chicken, Dark Meat
- Cheese, full fat
- Cream Cheese, full fat
- Dried Fruit
- Hemp seeds
- Flax Oil
- Milk, full fat whole milk
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Butter
- Sweet Potato
- Sour Cream, full fat
- Yogurt, full fat
TIP: Read more about healthy fats for kids.
How to Add Calories to Foods without Force Feeding
The thing about feeding kids is that we can’t force them to eat. (Okay, you theoretically could, but that’s not a way to raise a kiddo who trusts food or you to feed them!) So here’s how I would suggest you approach this: Aim to add these foods into regular rotation as they are, and also add some of them to foods your child already eats.
And try to avoid forcing your child to eat, but instead provide relaxed and frequent opportunities for them to eat some food—even if that means you have snacks or meals more frequently than you have been.
Here are some examples of meals and snacks with higher calories:
TIP: You can do all of this without needing to buy special toddler formulas or protein powders, so save yourself the money!
High-Calorie and High-Fat Recipes to Try
These recipes pack in a load of nutrients in each bite or sip and are great options to try if you’re needing to maximize the bites that your kiddo is taking.
Serve up a simple, yet nutritious protein smoothie with three flavor options to choose from.
Be sure to blend this super smooth for the best texture. Use any or none of the optional ingredients. See the Notes for how to make this with regular milk.
This is an easy method to introduce eggs to baby, whether they’re starting solids on purees or with the baby led weaning approach. Adjust the number of eggs up or down as you like.
You can season the cooked egg with a little salt, butter or cheese if you’d like, but it’s very good as is. See the Note about the heat setting when cooking in a microwave.
I like adding the thyme in these for extra flavor, but it’s optional! Be sure to grease your muffin tin well with nonstick spray to help prevent these from sticking to the pan. A nonstick mini muffin pan works best here.
These simple blender muffins pack a serious nutrition punch and are dairy-free, with a nut-free option. I prefer the flavor of these once they are fully cooled and chilled in the fridge.
These no-bake bites taste like a cross between oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookie dough. I use natural creamy peanut butter (like the kind from Smuckers) and it works really well. (Recipe updated slightly in June 2021 to ensure the best texture.)
Made with just a handful of pantry staples, these No-Bake Peanut Butter Cookies are both delicious and seriously satisfying. Make them to share with the kids!
This fluffy peanut butter puree should have the consistency of yogurt and be easy for a baby to move around in their mouths. Remember to offer just a little at a time.
Any pasta shape works in this recipe, so choose your family’s favorite! Omit the garlic if you think the flavor might be too strong for your people. My kids prefer this without the garlic. I like it with it for myself!
This will make at least two dinners worth of meatballs, depending on how many people are in your family. I like to freeze half of the batch to use in a future meal.
The method on this recipe is streamlined to cut down on dish washing. Add the optional spices for more flavor if you like! Double it to make more.
This is best on the day you make it, though you can store it in the fridge for 24 hours in an airtight container. If any liquid separates out, simply stir it up.
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This post is not meant as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult with your pediatrician and a trained pediatric feeding therapist for individualized help.
This post was first published February 2020.