The Diet Recommended for Underweight Children

The diet recommended for underweight children is that which their pediatrician and nutritionist indicate to achieve the child's ideal weight.
The Diet Recommended for Underweight Children

Last update: 21 July, 2023

As moms, we’re always attentive to our children’s nutrition, because we know that by eating properly, they’ll have optimal growth and development. That’s why, when we notice that they’re underweight, we’re alarmed. In this article, we’ll offer you some simple tips and guidelines on the diet recommended for underweight children.

Next, we’ll go into all the aspects related to feeding your little one in order to recover a deficient weight. But remember that every recommendation must go hand in hand with the opinion of a pediatrician and other health professionals.

When we realize that our children are underweight, we must follow these guidelines that will help them to recover their good development and growth.

1. Consult with the health professional

The first thing to do is to consult with health professionals. A pediatrician and nutritionist are the best people to handle these cases. However, it’s possible that the child’s low weight can be resolved with some simple changes in eating habits and patterns at home.

2. Rule out causes

It’s important to rule out genetic factors in the child, as they may be naturally thin. Other reasons may be psychological, hormonal, metabolic, gastrointestinal, or have to do with the use of medications that reduce the child’s appetite. In other cases, they may develop eating disorders, for which they’ll need help from a psychologist. Also, it’s important to remember that they burn more calories than they take in when they’re very active.

A doctor measuring a child's waist.
Visiting a doctor and nutritionist is key to determining the causes of the child’s weight and determining a diet suited to their needs.

3. Change behavior toward meals

By modifying some general patterns in the child’s feeding, we can achieve a behavioral change that benefits weight gain:

  • Increase the number of meals: Keep in mind that children have small stomachs and need to distribute their meals in several portions. In this regard, they need to eat between 5 and 6 times a day. This way, we provide the energy and nutrients they need during the day.
  • The family should set the example: Children learn by observation, therefore, the change in habits begins at home. In order for them to adopt good eating habits, the whole family must change their habits for healthier ones.
  • Make mealtime a pleasurable moment: Teach them that eating has a schedule and a daily routine, which requires attention, focus, and enjoyment. Turn off the TV and share the moment with your children. Try to invent new preparations to get them excited.
  • Combine healthy eating with exercise: When food is healthy and reinforced with a constant exercise routine, it helps with weight gain, especially muscle mass. This is more noticeable in older children. In addition, according to the Mayo Clinic organization, exercise before meals stimulates appetite.

4. Get advice on which foods to select

The most important thing in a new eating plan is the combination of all the food groups. These will provide the nutrients in quantity and quality, as well as the energy the child needs to gain weight. According to a group of experts, this should be focused on healthy eating. Let’s see which ones are included in this list:

  • Varied foods: Eggs, whole milk, cheeses, fish, poultry, and, occasionally, meats will provide animal protein. As for plant sources, legumes, seeds, and nuts also provide protein. Cereals, pasta, bread, oatmeal, barley, and others will provide energy. Finally, to complement, fruits and vegetables will offer the necessary vitamins and minerals.
  • Fiber: This shouldn’t exceed the requirement of the underweight child. The main reason is that it produces satiety, and the idea is to stimulate appetite. So, don’t overdo it with whole-grain foods.
  • Include healthy fats: Fats provide the most energy, as 1 gram is converted into 9 calories. The Spanish Association of Pediatrics recommends olive oil as the healthiest. Flaxseed oil, avocado, nuts, and canola oil can also be used. In addition, peanut butter and coconut fat are good options as a source of energy.
  • Nutritious snacks: Snacks that are easy to prepare and packed with energy and nutrients are recommended. For example, a small handful of nuts, a slice of bread with peanut butter, or fruit with cheese, among others. Also, yogurt, granola bars, or whole-grain bread are allowed.
  • Water will always be the best option, but to help weight gain, caloric and nutritious drinks are recommended, such as whole milk, natural fruit juices, or nutritional supplements.

5. Keep in mind which foods you shouldn’t include

The recommended diet for underweight children should be of high nutritional quality. Therefore, write down those foods that shouldn’t be present in their diet.

For example, avoid fast food and ultra-processed foods, as they’re loaded with additives and their calories don’t provide nutrients. It’s best to prepare similar meals, but from home, so you can control the ingredients. You should avoid the following foods:

  • Soda and other sugary drinks
  • Processed cookies
  • Cakes and pastries
  • Commercial juices
  • French fries
  • Frozen industrial pizza
  • Assorted snacks
  • Candies, sweets, and candies.
Frequent consumption of fast food and ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of health problems. For this reason, they’re not recommended in the diet to gain weight.

6. Incorporate calories little by little

It’s best to add calories little by little in order to determine the level of acceptance of some foods. Here are some ideas:

  • Incorporate dehydrated fruits without added sugar. As they’re sweeter than the traditional ones, they’ll be more pleasing to the palate. In addition, their calories are concentrated and their lower water content produces less satiety.
  • Add flaxseed oil and other healthy oils to enrich some preparations, such as fruit juices, sauces, and peanut butter, among others.
  • Use chicken broth as a cooking medium for pasta and rice.
  • Prepare natural ice cream without added sugar. For this, use whole milk, eggs, dehydrated fruits, and their syrups.

The journal Annals of Pediatrics recommends the following daily food servings for preschool and school-age children.

  • Animal and vegetable protein: 3 or more servings. In the case of fish, the Spanish Association of Pediatrics recommends consuming it 3 to 4 times a week if it’s lean fish, or 2 times if it’s rich in fat.
  • Fresh or dehydrated fruits: 3 to 5 servings.
  • Tubers and roots: 6 servings or more (including sweet potato, potato, okra, yam, and celery, among others).
  • Cereals: 6 servings.
  • Vegetables: 3 to 5 servings.
  • Dairy products: 2 to 3 servings of yogurt, cheese, and milk.

Medical and family support is key when it comes to underweight children

The first step to addressing your child’s low weight is to take them to their pediatrician. After you’re sure of the cause, follow the instructions and include the professional attention of a nutritionist. In general, an underweight child needs to change their eating behavior. To do so, they must have family support and include varied, quality, healthy foods and extra energy and nutrients to help weight gain.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.