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How can I help my child gain weight?



Children gain weight as they get older in order to help them grow. However, some children do not gain enough weight. There are many reasons for this. The most common reason is because they do not eat enough food to meet their needs. With a little planning, children can maintain their weight and avoid the negative health effects of poor weight gain. 

How do I know if my child is not gaining enough weight?

All children have a pattern of growth that is natural to them. Your child is growing well if he or she is growing or “tracking” along the same growth pattern over time. If you are concerned that your child is not gaining enough weight, speak to your child’s health care provider. 

Why is my child not gaining enough weight?

Your child may not be gaining enough weight because:

  • She is experiencing a growth spurt and her energy needs are high  
  • She doesn’t have an appetite or she says no to food
  • She only eats a few types of food (she is a picky eater)
  • She eats too slowly
  • She is easily distracted or loses interest in eating quickly
  • She has an illness    

What may happen if my child doesn’t gain enough weight?

Poor weight gain can lead to low levels of vitamins and minerals in the body and learning problems in school. 

Poor weight gain can also lead to Failure to Thrive (FTT). FTT is when a child does not gain weight as they should when compared to other children. FTT may lead to poor growth and delayed mental development. Only a health care provider can determine if a child has FTT.  

How can I help my child gain weight?

By making small changes to your child’s meals and snacks throughout the day, you can increase the amount of calories she gets. The following tips can help your child gain weight.

Follow Canada’s Food Guide

  • Offer a variety of foods during meals and snacks from Canada’s Food Guide. Choose foods from at least 3 of the 4 food groups at meals and at least 2 food groups at snack time. Offering a variety of foods will give your child many nutrients and will help keep your child interested in food and eating. 
  • Serve smaller portions. Younger children have small stomachs. A large portion of food may be too much for your child and she may get discouraged. Serve her smaller portions (about a quarter of an adult portion) of nutritious foods at scheduled meals and snacks. Make more food available if your child is still hungry.

Choose nutritious, high energy foods and beverages 

  • Wait until the end of your child’s meal or snack before you offer fluids. Fluids can fill up small stomachs fast. When you do offer fluids, choose high calorie drinks such as milkshakes and fruit smoothies made with whole milk, high fat yogurt or table cream for more calories.  
  • Choose high calorie foods such as meats, chicken, fatty fish like salmon and meat alternatives like tofu, cheese with 20% or more M.F. (milk fat), cream cheese and full fat yogurt 3% M.F. or higher. 

Add fats and oils to regular meals 

  • Include butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, vegetable oils like canola or olive oil, salad dressings, spreads, peanut butter (spread thinly for children under 4 years of age), dips, avocado and gravy. 
  • Add cream or liquid whipping cream to soups, milkshakes and mashed potatoes.  

Create a happy mealtime 

  • Avoid pressuring your child to eat. Children will eat when they are hungry. Pressuring your child to eat may cause your child to eat less. It is your responsibility to provide the food. Your child should decide how much to eat.
  • Don’t rush meal times. Slow eaters need more time to eat.  
  • Eat meals away from the television or computer to help children focus on eating. 

Should I give my child a nutritional supplement?

Nutritional supplements provide extra calories and nutrients to support weight gain and promote growth. They may be recommended by your child’s health care provider and the type recommended will depend on your child’s age. Remember, it’s important to feed your child food first before offering a nutritional supplement. Speak with your child’s health care provider for more information.     

When should I bring my child to the doctor?  

If you notice a sudden change in your child’s eating pattern, speak with your child’s doctor to make sure she does not have any nutrition or health problems. 

How do I track my child’s weight?

Every child has a unique growth pattern. Have your child weighed and measured on a regular basis by your child’s doctor to track his or her growth over time. If your child’s eating pattern has changed or if you are concerned about your child’s weight, speak to your child’s doctor or health care provider.  

Bottom line

Follow Canada’s Food Guide and choose nutritious, high energy foods and beverages to help your child gain weight and avoid the negative health effects of poor weight gain. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, contact your child’s doctor or health care provider. 

Call EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-510-2 or send us an email if you have questions about healthy weight gain in children.

Try these energy boosting, kid friendly recipes

Ground up Frog Smoothie: replace some of the soy beverage with liquid whipping cream.   

Rise & shine breakfast sandwich: add full fat cheese and extra ham. 

Protein Bars: use full fat yogurt. 

Rock’n Ranch Panini: add extra meat and full fat cheese.

You may also be interested in:

How to Build a Healthy Preschooler

Parent and Caregivers Influence on Children’s Eating Habits

Last Update – April 13, 2017

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.