For some children, putting on weight can be a struggle, especially if they have a chronic health condition.
If this is something that you worry about, the first thing to think about is:
Are they actually in need of rapid weight gain?
People love a chubby baby, but that is not necessarily appropriate or healthy.
There is no other stage in life where people view slimness as unhealthy or undesirable!!
To make an objective judgement, look at the growth charts – are they keeping on their own trajectory, or are they falling off it?
If they are actually falling off it, let’s have a look at a few reasons why that might be.
Are they a fussy eater?
If they are, then you need to deal with fussiness.
Imagine someone blindfolded you, put a plate of food in front of you and said “now eat this”.
- What colour is the food?
- Is it lumpy or smooth?
- Does it look like it might be too cold or too hold?
- What will it taste like?
Imagine this is how a child feels when presented with a new food for the first time.
Unless they get a chance to sniff it, touch it, lick it, how will they feel comfortable to eat it?
So let them get messy!!
Tips to get started to help with fussiness are:
- Eat together as a family
- Model good eating behaviour – sit down, chat, put away the phone, enjoy your food.
- Try to make mealtimes relaxing – possibly have a pre-dinner routine – read story, wash hands, then sit at the dinner table
- Introduce foods very gently and patiently
- Let them play with the food – squeeze it, roll it, push it etc.
Are they constipated?
If your child is constipated, this will have a negative effect on their appetite.
One likely cause of constipation is a lack of fibre.
To add more fibre to the diet stick to fruit, vegetable, nuts, legumes and seeds.
And whenever you increase fibre in anyone’s diet, make sure you increaser the water too. If you add the fibre and not the water, you can make things worse.
Some foods which are particularly helpful are kiwi fruit, beetroot and blackberries.
Do they have diarrhoea?
If your child has chronic diarrhoea, food will not be in their system long enough to absorb all the nutrients, and they will struggle to food on weight.
Find out why they have diarrhoea:
- Is it food intolerances?
- Do they have a parasite or other infection?
Dietary changes and probiotics can make the world of difference.
Which foods will help with weight gain?
Don’t fall into the trap of giving your child fast food, processed food and ice cream to increase weight gain. This might make them put on fat, but will lead to other health and behavioural issues.
Stick with real food.
- Liver – this is nutrient dense, high in iron and should be served in small amounts, frequently. Choose organic liver, and make a chicken liver pate. Or just fry some liver with a slice of nitrite free bacon.
- Oily fish has a great amount of healthy fat. Most children really like foods like salmon as it is soft and easy to chew. Other more economical options include sardines for breakfast, or salmon cakes made with tinned salmon
- Nut butters are high in calories and kids love them. Choose the non-peanut varieties, as peanuts are more inflammatory. Either make your own nut butter or buy one with no added preservatives, flavours, salt, palm oil etc.
- Bone broth and chicken stock. Learn how to make your own bone broth and chicken stock and use this instead of water when cooking. If you are making risotto, cook in this liquid gold. If you are making mashed potatoes cook in stock and then mash the stock into the potatoes (usually about 250g of stock is right for 1kg potatoes). Chicken stock will help heal and seal the gut so nutrients are better absorbed. Bone broth has lots of minerals in it which will help nourish a growing child
- Roast starchy vegetables in fats like olive oil and coconut oil to add some extra calories, like sweet potato chips.
- Avocado can be added to dips, smoothies, or eaten as a snack with a spoon.
If your child has a history of allergies, autoimmunity or behavioural issues, look at GAPS diet to correct gut problems and help with weight gain. Once the child is digesting properly, they will achieve their goal weight more easily.
If you are on a tight timeframe to gain weight (for example trying to achieve a goal weight for surgery), you might want to invest in some testing early on.
Suggested testing avenues to explore:
- Are they deficient in zinc – this is easily checked with a blood test, and supplement if necessary. Foods high in zinc include seeds, oysters and beef.
- Identify allergies, and screen for coeliac disease. If certain foods are causing irritation to the digestive system, nutrients won’t be properly absorbed.
- Check for candida overgrowth, as this can cause failure to thrive
- Parasites – you can do a test on your child’s poo to look for parasites. If there are parasites there, they will be stealing food from your child!
Supplements to consider
- A good multivitamin can be useful, but it needs to be a good quality one, not one of the ‘lolly’ type vitamins you can buy in the shop.
- Probiotics – certain probiotics will be helpful to help to heal the gut after exposures to allergens, medications etc.
- Celloids – this is a type of practitioner-only supplement that works really well in children, and some of them work really well to stimulate gastric juices. If your child isn’t producing sufficient gastric juices, they won’t be digesting their food properly.
The bottom line is, don’t fall into the trap of giving junk / processed food.
It might put on weight, but it isn’t nourishing and will lead to other problems.
If you would like to discuss your child’s individual circumstances with me, book in for a free 20 min chat here.