There are many reasons why a child might be underweight. They may live with a medical condition that requires a high energy (calorie) intake; they may have barriers to eating such as a feeding problem or require medications that have an appetite suppressing side-effect.
Children who are underweight and not meeting their growth potential will generally benefit from dietary, lifestyle and family-based changes to support them to meet their growth potential.
Whilst it is important to gain individual advise and seek medical or dietetic assessment to identify why a child is underweight. Some general tips for supporting an otherwise healthy child to meet their nutritional requirements include:
– Eating regular meals and mid-meals.
3 main meals and 2-3 mid-meals per day. This includes weekends when eating routines may be out of sync due to sleeping in, sport and other activities or less meal planning in the way of lunchboxes. Having set times for eating is important as research shows that those who tend to graze throughout the day have poorer nutritional intakes overall.
– Meet calcium requirements.
Calcium rich foods such as milk (cows milk or fortified soy milk) yoghurt and cheese are nutritious sources of calories and protein. A glass of milk is a great after dinner “snack”. Cheese can be added to meals such as pasta dishes, steamed vegetables and sandwiches to boost the caloric and nutritional value.
– Not too much fruit
Fruit is delicious and nutritious and should be included daily in the diet of children. Too much of a good thing though can mean that some children don’t have the room to eat other nutritious (and higher energy) foods. For most children, about 2 serves per day is a good amount.
– Make use of healthy fats.
Everyone, including growing toddlers, children and teens need to include sources of healthy fats into their daily diet. This can come in the form of vegetables oils spread on bread, toast or crackers; olive oil drizzles over vegetables or as a salad dressing; avocado and nuts and nut spreads. Aim for a serve of healthy fats at each main-meals for children who are underweight.
– Speak to a health professional early
The longer a child’s nutritional intake is in deficit the harder it is for them to play “catch-up”. If you’re concerned about your child’s growth and/or weight gains speak to your GP or Paediatrician or make an appointment with a paediatric dietitian who will be able to provide you with specialised and individualised advise to support your child.