Getting your little one to gain weight can be a challenge. Finding healthy (ish) high calorie foods for toddlers that are picky eaters can make it even more challenging. As a registered dietitian and the mom of an extremely picky eater who is borderline underweight, I know firsthand how hard the struggle can be.
“Put some meat on that boy’s bones”, “Are you starving him!?”, “Give that boy a hamburger!” were phrases I frequently heard.
It can be frustrating and embarrassing to constantly hear those phrases. But, I think the toughest is when your pediatrician tells you that your child is falling off of the growth chart.
The truth is, some toddlers and kids need a higher-calorie diet to gain and/or maintain a healthy weight. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey results from 2017-2018, an estimated 3.5% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are considered underweight.
It can be difficult to add a lot of calories to your child’s diet since they have such a tiny tummy. In this article, I want to share with you some high calorie foods for toddlers to help them gain weight.
Does My Toddler Need To Gain Weight?
Before adjusting your toddler’s dietary regimen, it’s important to make sure that your kiddo needs the extra fat/calories/protein.
If you have spoken with a pediatric nutritionist or pediatrician who has advised you that your child needs to lose weight, you can skip through to the next section!
While growth charts are the gold standard for noticing trends in your toddler’s overall growth, there are a few other ways to tell if your toddler is getting enough nutrients and growing properly.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is your child gaining weight?
- Is your child following their growth curve?
- Do they seem content and happy?
- Has your pediatrician mentioned anything to you about your little one’s growth?
If your toddler is gaining weight (even at a slow rate) following their growth curve and seems content, they may just be going through a spell, and you can relax a little bit.
On the other hand, here are some things that may warrant more concern and a visit with your pediatrician. If your child:
- Lacks “baby fat” or is frail appearing
- Is much smaller than other kids their age
- Isn’t gaining weight or outgrowing clothes
- Is not eating well because of stomach problems
- Has decreased physical activity
- Is losing weight
As long as your child has no other medical concerns, the best way to get your child to gain weight is through eating more calories. With that said, here are some of the high calorie foods for toddlers.
29 High Calorie Foods For Toddlers For Weight Gain
Here are a few high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods to help toddlers to gain weight:
- Whole-Milk yogurt
- Peanut butter (or any nut butters, really!)
- Full fat cheese
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- Dried apricots
- Protein bars
- Trail mix
- Full fat yogurt (frozen)
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Heavy cream
- Fatty fish
- Whole Milk
- Goat cheese
- Full fat cottage cheese
20 High Calorie Meal and Healthy Snacks For Toddlers
Here’s a look at some of my favorite high-calorie meal combinations to promote weight gain in toddlers and children.
- Oatmeal with peanut butter and dried fruit
- Butter melted onto whole-grain toast or pasta
- Drizzle olive oil on pasta or vegetables (have a picky eater? check out my list of vegetables for picky eaters!)
- Sweet potato fries drizzled with olive oil
- Broccoli tossed in olive oil with shredded cheese
- Whole milk yogurt with granola
- Whole-grain pancakes with peanut butter and honey
- Chocolate hazelnut spread on toast
- A smoothie with full-fat dairy, banana, avocado, berries, and flaxseed
- A smoothie with heavy whipping cream, nut butter, banana, and dark chocolate sprinkled on the top
- Guacamole dip with carrots
- Eggs cooked in butter
- Breakfast cereals like raisin bran with whole milk
- Using heavy creams in mashed potatoes
- Full fat mayonnaise on sandwiches
- Rice with butter
- Ground beef cooked in butter
- Protein Balls
- Vanilla milkshake with a banana
- Apples with peanut butter
*I suggest trying to make your toddler’s meals individually to prevent the whole family from unintentionally following a very high-calorie diet and adding extra pounds.
However, you can always cook normal meals and add oils and butter to your toddler’s plate. For example, if you’re serving lean meat like grilled chicken, you can drizzle oil or butter on it and serve it with a high-calorie side for extra calories.
3 Tips to Help Increase Your Toddler’s Calories
Sneak High Calorie Foods in Every Chance You Get
ANNOUNCEMENT: DON’T FORCE YOUR TODDLER TO EAT. I REPEAT, DO NOT DO IT.
Seriously, though. I think we have all done this before. But, honestly, it just backfires. Instead, the best time to sneak in high-calorie foods is any chance you can get…on your toddler’s own terms, though.
It can be easy to get frustrated after trying and not seeing an increase in weight, but micromanaging your little one’s eating habits will only make things worse.
Try to focus on making every bite count. For example, a tablespoon of nut butter is around 100 calories, and a tablespoon of cream cheese has around 50 calories. So, go with the higher calorie option to double the number of calories.
Remember, even a slight weight gain is a win. A toddler only usually gains between 4-6 pounds in a year, so don’t expect a ton of weight gain at once.
Try Small Meals and Snacks Throughout the Day
To avoid your toddler’s small stomach filling up too quickly, it’s important to focus on small, calorie-dense meals and snacks throughout the day.
Try three to four “snack times” in addition to your three meals a day. This provides more opportunities for your child to accept your offer to eat. Remember, if they refuse during snack time, resist too much encouragement.
Finger foods or putting them in their high chair with high-calorie dips and letting them do it themselves is an excellent way for them to remain in control of the situation (while making a mess). But, hey, whatever works?
Steer Clear of Poor Quality, High-Calorie Foods
Sure, giving your child candy bars and french fries all day can certainly increase the calories in their diet-—but—-this is the worst way to put weight on your toddler.
Because although the foods mentioned earlier have a high calorie content, but they are seriously lacking in the nutrient department. In order to promote a healthy weight gain and properly nourish your child, you want to choose nutrient-dense foods to increase calories, such as the ones mentioned earlier. Contrary to popular belief, there are ways for your toddler to still be eating healthy and making good food choices while increasing calories.
And trust me, I know this is difficult for extremely picky eaters who refuse certain foods, but the focus should always be making sure your child eats high-calorie foods with key nutrients to promote healthy growth and development:
Key Nutrients to Promote Healthy Growth and Development in Toddlers
- Healthy fats
- Vitamin D
Make Meals FUN with High Calorie Foods For Toddlers!
Toddlers love FUN. I always suggest making meal time fun and interesting. That is really the number one trick that I’ve found success with in both of my boys. There are many food games you can play to encourage your kiddo to eat more.
You can also download my Picky Eater Bingo card and fill in the blanks with higher calorie foods. For example, you can fill one space with a teaspoon of peanut butter or cream cheese with a veggie/carb of choice. Even getting them to drink a sip of a protein shake or smoothie with each square may encourage more calorie and nutrient intake than what they would have done!
High Calorie Protein Shakes For Toddlers
OK, so I am not against high-calorie protein shakes like Pediasure for toddlers at all. The reason I saved this for last is that it shouldn’t be your first go-to. While these shakes are nutrient-dense, your kiddo will begin to turn their nose up at them real fast if you use it as the first line of defense. (I know from experience!)
Similar to older adults, it’s best to take a food-first approach to add extra calories to your child’s diet. I recommend limiting these shakes to no more than once per day or every other day, even if your kiddo really enjoys them.
I’ve also mixed them with fruit and ice cream for extra calories and to change the flavor up a bit, too.
With that said, here’s a few high-calorie protein shakes for toddlers:
- Orgain Kids: 180 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 8 grams of protein
- Boost Kids Essentials: 240 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein
- Pediasure Grow N’ Gain: 240 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein (SNAP-eligible product)
- Healthy Heights Grow Daily: 230 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 16 grams of protein (when mixed with ½ cup of 1% milk or milk alternative.
*These are Amazon Affiliate links, and I may earn a small portion if you click and purchase at no extra cost to you.
If your child has food allergies, consider Bright Beginnings Soy Pediatric Drink or Pediasmart Organic Pea Protein.
Having an underweight child or underweight toddler can be frustrating for everyone involved, especially if it’s due to picky eating habits.
Getting toddlers to gain weight may feel like a chore that never ends. Hopefully, the high-calorie foods for toddlers and other tips I’ve shared will help you out on your journey.
If you haven’t already, it’s best to speak with a pediatric dietitian or your child’s pediatrician who can provide professional medical advice and monitor your little one’s growth to ensure you are on the right track.
Remember, you’ve got this! No matter how frustrated and defeated at the end of the day, you’re doing a wonderful job. Heck, just making it through my entire post deserves an award in itself.