Everywhere you look these days, it seems like the spotlight is on overweight kids. Childhood obesity is a growing concern, particularly in the U.S. It's a much-discussed topic among parents, doctors, health experts, teachers and everyone in between. While overweight kids will face a number of health problems associated with their weight, underweight kids are equally at risk for health issues. In fact, although both conditions are harmful to health, being underweight can be more dangerous than being overweight.
Being underweight is often attributed to being a picky eater, but according to federal figures, 3.5 percent of U.S. kids aged 2 to 19 are underweight and their weight has nothing to do with any food aversions. If you're the parent of an underweight child, you already know the stress of trying to get your child to eat more, gain weight, grow and be healthy. If you're parenting an underweight child, you know that the response to your extra efforts is that your child eats even less. Experts say this is typical.
What Doctors Say about Underweight Kids
If your child is chronically underweight, a pediatrician is going to want to do a screening to check for underlying issues or health problems that may affect growth. Screenings will most likely be done for issues like Celiac disease, Crohn's disease, Cystic Fibrosis (CF), digestive problems or malformations, cancer and gastrointestinal issues - all of which can cause nutritional absorption and growth/weight problems in kids. The doctor will also want to know about any medications your kids are on, that may be affecting their appetite or affecting their body's ability to absorb nutrients.
Tips for Parents of Kids Who Need to Gain Weight
Don't force-feed your kids, doctors say, no matter the issue. In fact, mealtimes should be as stress-free as possible, even when you're worried or frustrated. Unfortunately, the old adage "they'll eat when they're hungry" isn't always true, especially if your kids have other health issues. In fact, some kids can't even sense hunger signals in their bodies properly. Ruling out health issues is very important as a first step, so that you can determine any underlying health problems and work with a doctor who specializes in that area.
Adding Calories to Your Child's Diet
If your child has an underlying health condition like food allergies or Crohn's disease, there may be certain foods your child needs to avoid. If your child's smaller size and lack of appetite are not stemming from a food allergy, your doctor may advise you to do what you can to pack more calories into the smaller amounts of food that your child will eat. In most cases, there are ways to sneak some extra calories into even a limited diet.
To help your kids gain some weight through their limited diet, try these 6 ideas:
Stir fatty dairy products like heavy cream, whole milk, butter and powdered milk into everything you can like soups, oatmeal, cereal, and desserts. Have full-fat ice cream every night for dessert, yay!
Cheese in can be very fatty and kids typically love it. Melt some cheese on everything from: scrambled eggs, toast and breads, baked potatoes and meatloaf. Make a cheese sauce to dip anything and everything into. Get creative!
Smoothies can be popular with kids. Try some creative "milkshakes." Start with ice cream or frozen yogurt and whole milk. If you want to sneak in extra nutrients and calories, add some protein powder or peanut butter to a milkshake, even add some fruit. If it's a fruity smoothie, try to get some kale, spinach or other veggie in there as well. Experiment with flavors and pack in as many calories and nutrients as you can.
Deep frying foods may go against everything you've been taught, but it'll provide fats and calories for your underweight kids. It's true, fried foods aren't ideal for health, but the point is to get them to eat and grow. You can either fry in olive oil or deep fry vegetables, like green beans and zucchini, meats and many other things.
Dips are fun for kids and you can sneak fats into them, especially if you make them yourself. Take some ranch dressing packets and stir in full-fat ingredients like sour cream, heavy cream or full fat mayonnaise.
Peanut butter is a healthy fat that you can get creative with and it goes great with an ice cold glass of whole milk. Put peanut butter between crackers, on French toast, apples or bananas, bread or anything else your kids eat.
Even though it is ideal to get your kids to eat a healthy and balanced diet (and you should try, every day) it's not always reality. Sometimes parents of underweight kids need to take it one step at a time and just get them to eat something. Period. Start there. Over time, once you've found "go-to" foods your kids will eat, you can start introducing them to new things. Stay in contact with a doctor who can monitor their progress and development.