Foods for Toddlers Who Need to Gain Weight

Boy measures weight on a weight scale.

My one-year-old passed her first year check-up with flying colors, except for one thing: this toddler needs to gain weight.

Those height and weight percentile charts are a mama’s best friend–when your baby is at or near the top. But if your little one is low down–like my baby girl, in just the third percentile for weight–they’re the cause of some serious stress.

I knew she was on the small side, but since she likes to eat, I wasn’t worried. Despite her tiny size–she’s just over 16 pounds–my pediatrician isn’t either, but we are under orders to fatten her up.

Previously I was trying to go the easy route of just feeding her what the rest of the family is eating. But with instructions to make soups with cream and top broccoli with cheese sauce, it looks like we’re going to have to set up a short-order Restaurant Chez Toddler.

My doctor gave me a hand-out from Seattle Children’s Hospital Foods To Increase Your Child’s Calories and Protein with suggested foods to increase my daughter’s calories and protein. It’s ironically hilarious: it suggests things like adding sugar, jam, or honey to bread, cereal, milk, fruit, and yogurt, and offering high fat meats like cheeseburgers. Here I am trying to serve tasty but food and hopefully shape her palate so that she enjoys eating foods that are good for you. What’s a mama to do!

I guess I’ll approach this challenge as I do most parenting issues: by trying to strike a balance. In this case, I’ll look to tip the scale slightly in favor of deep-fried cheese curds over plain steamed veggies. With that in mind, here are some ideas for mostly healthy but calorically dense foods to serve an underweight toddler, as interpreted from the informational hand-out “Foods To Increase Your Child’s Calories and Protein” from Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center:

–Spread nut butters (if you’re not concerned about allergies) on toast, crackers, pancakes, and apple slices
–Mix shredded cheese into eggs scrambled in butter
–Add granola to muffins and sweet breads
–Offer guacamole and cheesy bean dip with whole-grain pita chips
–Make pudding from eggs, milk, and a little sugar
–Top whole-wheat pasta and veggies with pesto or alfredo cream sauce
–Stuff tortillas with meat, cheese, and veggies
–Serve diced chicken or pork or in tikka masala sauce
–Swirl butter into rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, and vegetables
-Offer fresh fruit with a side of whipped cream or ice cream for dipping


Click here to download the “Foods To Increase Your Child’s Calories and Protein” handout.

Do you have any concerns about your toddler’s weight?