21 Healthy Weight Gaining Foods For Kids

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Underweight children may experience different health issues. That is why it is important to include some weight gain foods for kids in their diet. You may know about the ideal weight your child should have by following the international BMI regulations. The calculation is performed by evaluating the child’s anthropometriciXThe study of the human body measurements, particularly on a comparative basis measurements on percentile growth charts. This post will help you provide the right nutrition to your children through some of the most nutrient-dense best foods. These will help them gain a healthy weight at a stable rate while providing them with all the essential nutrients for growth. Although most gradually gain the right weight as they grow, some may not achieve that. Weight gain can be influenced by other factors such as genetics, regular activities, or other underlying issues. Hence, it is important to remember that food may not always be the solution or the problem, so you do not end up overfeeding your child.

In This Article

What Should Be The Ideal Weight For Children?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for children over the age of two years, the ideal weight of children can be measured by their BMI-for-age percentile growth charts (1).

BMI percentileWeight status
Less than 5Underweight
5 to 85Normal weight
85 to 95Overweight
95 and aboveObese

While children should be given nourishing foods for their overall growth and development, weight-gaining foods are specifically for those who are underweight. Despite growing obesity trends, some children tend to be underweight due to a lack of access to sufficient food. An estimate report published by The World Bank suggested a 0.4% prevalence of underweight children in the US in 2018. The choice of foods in such cases thus gets tricky, so it is always advisable to consult a pediatric nutritionist to plan a holistic diet for weight gain.

protip_icon Experts say
The Department of Health Services, State of Wisconsin, US advises children to eat their meals regularly and to have at least two high-calorie, healthy snacks per day (30)

21 Healthy Weight Gaining Foods For Children

Weight gaining foods for kids should be wholesome as well as mouth-watering. Whether it is an energy bar, a smoothie, or a whole meal, your children will enjoy it only if it appeals to them. Do not forget to include these nutrient-dense foods in your meal planning for weight gain in children.

1. Eggs

Eggs, a healthy food for children

Image: IStock

Wholesome and rich in protein, eggs can help in regulating your child’s weight. An egg helps in building the growth of muscles and tissues of the body, that are essential for puberty and good adolescent health. Eggs should be boiled well and introduced in small quantities to young children. Eggs are a superfoodiXFoods high in fiber, antioxidants, or fatty acids that are beneficial for health for children and are packed with many nutrients such as phosphorus, complete protein, zinc, calcium, iron, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, riboflavin, and choline (2).

Nutritional value per egg (3):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
7856

2. Chicken

Chicken is a high-calorie and high-protein food for children and can help prevent malnutrition. It is also rich in phosphorus, an essential mineral that supports your teeth and bones, and benefits the kidney, liver, and the functioning of the entire central nervous system. It is also a great source of vitamin B12, a key nutrient for proper brain, nerves, and blood cell development, especially at early ages. Remember that chicken breasts are leaner than thighs and legs and that removing the skin is the best option because it’s rich in saturated fats and cholesterol.

Nutritional value per 100g of chicken (4):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
23913.4024

3. Salmon

Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium, and choline that support brain function, cognitive function, and neurological health in young children. Therefore, cooking a healthy and delicious salmon dish for your little one, sometimes, can be a good idea.

Nutritional value per100g of salmon (5):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
20813.4220.42

4. Tofu

Tofu is a popular weight gain food for kids

Image: IStock

Tofu, a soy product, is a protein-rich food and contains essential amino acids, plant-based iron, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium. It is a nutrient-dense food item with high protein and healthy fats, both ideal for proper growth in children.

Nutritional value per 100g of tofu (6):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
764.88.08

5. Jaggery

Jaggery is a form of non-refined sugar. Prepared from sugarcane juice and date palm, jaggery is better than refined sugar. It contains essential minerals including iron, which it gathers during the preparation process that involves the use of iron vessels. To provide extra calories to your child’s diet, add organic jaggery to their favorite delicacies. However, do not overuse it as it can have similar side effects as sugar.

Nutritional value per 100g of jaggery (7):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
3830.10.4

6. Honey

An alternative to sugar, honey comprises 17% water and 82% carbohydrates, promoting healthy weight gain. The natural sweetener has a low content of fat. You may add a spoonful on toast, sandwiches, or pancakes while making sure that the total sugar/ sweet intake is within the World Health Organization’s recommended limits of 10% of their total energy intake.

Nutritional value per 100g of honey (8):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
304820.3

7. Milk

Milk and dairy products are a good source of protein. If your child is not lactose intolerant, then one glass of milk every day can help in maintaining a healthy diet (9). Milk contains fats, calcium, and essential vitamins, which help in building strong bones. Plus, milk is fortified with vitamin D in many countries, which improves calcium absorption.

Nutritional value per 100g of milk (10):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
4213.4

8. Yogurt

Yogurt can be a healthy weight gain food for children

Image: IStock

Most children love yogurt. It can be mixed with something or eaten as it is. Calcium and potassium present in yogurt help in improving children’s bone health. In addition, yogurt is a source of gut-friendly bacteria referred to as “probiotics,” which help in proper digestion and absorption, thus impacting the overall growth and development of the child. Be sure to choose those with no added sugar for better nourishing your child.

Nutritional value per 100g of low-fat yogurt (11):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
610.3710.3

9. Dry fruits and nuts

Perfect for snacking or used as toppings, nut butters or on ice creams and smoothies, dry fruits and nuts have a wide variety, such as almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts, apricots, and more. Apart from being rich in iron, vitamins, and magnesium, dry fruits and nuts also provide proteins and healthy fats, which are important for healthy weight gain. You may serve 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried fruits and nuts to your child in a day.

Nutritional value per 100g of mixed nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and Brazil nuts) (12):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
6075420

10. Pancakes

Pancakes can be served as yummy snacks or breakfast for children. The ingredients of a pancake make it a high-calorie food.

protip_icon Quick tip
Replace all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour, cornmeal, or oats flour, to make pancakes healthier, without compromising on your child’s calorie intake.

Nutritional value per 100g of pancakes (13):
Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
227106

11. Oatmeal

Whole grains contain carbohydrates, proteins, and starch, making it a good choice for your child. Additionally, its high dietary fiber content helps in digestion.

Nutritional value per 100g of fortified oatmeal (14):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
681.42.4

12. Beans and lentils

Protein-rich beans and lentils

Image: IStock

Beans and lentils are rich in protein. On average, every 100 grams of it contain nearly 300 calories. Beans are also an excellent source of soluble fiber, which regulates blood sugar and helps prevent constipation. Plus, beans and lentils are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, which are key for good health. If your child is a fussy eater, try feeding them beans cooked in their favorite style.

Nutritional value per 100g of beans and lentils: (15) (16):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
Beans (15)3471.221.4
Lentils (16)1160.49

13. Olive oil

Use olive oil as a salad dressing or to sauté any food item. This oil is rich in monounsaturatediXA type of beneficial dietary fat fats, antioxidants, and a wide array of vitamins, such as vitamin E, which is vital for a healthy immune system and helps with children’s neurological development. You may try the extra virgin olive oil.

Nutritional value per tablespoon of olive oil (17):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
119140

14. Banana

Bananas are packed with nutrients that help in easy digestion. They are high in fiber, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6, which make them one of the best high-calorie foods for kids. The fruit is thus ideal for weight gain.

Nutritional value per medium-sized banana (18):

Energy (Kcal)Potassium (grams)Protein (grams)
1050.42241.3

15. Avocado

They are high in vitamins C, E, K, and B6, potassium, fat, fiber, Avocados also provide lutein, beta-caroteneiXA substance present in fruits and vegetables that are yellow or orange, as well as dark green, leafy plants , and omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial in improving the overall health of the body.

You can blend them into a smoothie or a dip to serve them with fried beans.

Nutritional value per avocado (19):

Energy (Kcal)Fat (grams)Protein (grams)
322294

16. Hummus

Protein-rich hummus for healthy weight gain in children

Image: IStock

Hummus contains essential nutrients and healthy fats. The main ingredient that goes into making hummus is chickpeas, which is a source of vital minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium that are beneficial in fighting anemia. It also has a good amount of protein which is important for healthy weight gain.

Nutritional value per 2tbsp (20):

KilocaloriesFat (grams)Iron(mg)
77.65.80.817

17. Corn

Corn is rich in carotenoidsiXA collection of around 750 naturally present pigments produced by some types of bacteria, plants, and algae that promote eye health. While it is primarily composed of carbohydrates, it’s also rich in fiber and many essential nutrients for proper growth and development, including B vitamins, iron, potassium, and zinc.

Nutritional value per 100g of corn (21):

Energy (Kcal)Protein (grams)Carbohydrates (grams)
863.2219

18. Fruit smoothie

Fruits come in rainbow colors and should be given to children for good health. But do they enjoy eating them as much? They may sometimes become fussy eating whole fruits.

But add a little milk and turn it into a delicious, colorful smoothie; they are sure to love it. Fruit smoothies contain vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fiber and must be included in the everyday diet. When possible, try to leave the fruit skin on for better nutrition.

Nutritional value per 100g of store-bought smoothie (22):

Energy (Kcal)Protein (grams)Carbohydrates (grams)
371.28

19. Sweet potato and potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, vitamins B and C, and minerals such as iron, calcium, and selenium. They are high in antioxidants and improve the absorption of beta-carotene in the body. Oven-baked sweet potato chips or fries are one of the easiest snacks to prepare, and by baking instead of frying them, we avoid unnecessary fats while giving your child nourishing food that can help them gain weight healthily.

Potatoes contain fiber and essential vitamins such as A and C. They are also rich in carbohydrates, which promote healthy weight gain. (23) (24)

Nutritional value per 100g of potatoes:

Energy (Kcal)Protein (grams)Carbohydrates (grams)
Sweet potatoes(23)861.620
Potatoes(24)772.0517.49

20. Other fruits

Children enjoy eating yummy, crunchy, and juicy fruits. The fruits strengthen a child’s immune system and help fight against illnesses. Fruits aid in a child’s healthy growth and development as they are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and loaded with other nutrients.

Nutritional value per 100g of fruits (salad) (25):

Energy (Kcal)Carbohydrates (grams)Protein (grams)
5213.160.75

21. Other vegetables

Children may find veggies boring, but they love them if they are tasty and crunchy. If your child is fussy about eating veggies, the best time to give them a plate of vegetables is when they are very hungry. Vegetables contain essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, that are crucial in improving the child’s health and aiding their overall development  (26).

Nutritional value per 100g of vegetables (27):

Energy (Kcal)Protein (grams)Carbohydrates (grams)
652.913

Reasons for Insufficient Weight Gain in Children

There can be several reasons for a child not gaining sufficient weight. Some of these include (28):

  • Low-calorie intake: Insufficient calorie and nutrient intake commonly cause slow weight gain in children. Picky eating and consuming beverages such as milk or sweet juices during mealtime, leaving little room for nutritional foods, are a few prominent reasons for inadequate calorie intake in children.
  • High-calorie demands: Very active children and teens and those involved in athletic activities may burn more calories. Hence, if they do not consume enough calories to compensate for the amount of calories they burn, they might not gain sufficient weight.
  • Medical conditions: Some health conditions can significantly increase a child’s calories. For example, congenital heart disease accelerates metabolism and causes the heart to beat faster to meet the body’s demands. It means the child will need more calories to meet the increased demand. Alternatively, certain health conditions such as celiac disease or cystic fibrosis might impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from diet. If the child doesn’t eat more calories, they may not gain enough weight.
  • Feeding difficulties: Difficulty swallowing or aversion to certain textures are a few feeding problems that can affect a child’s ability to consume enough calories. It is another reason that they may not gain enough weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How can I make my child gain weight fast?

The key to making your child gain weight fast is incorporating ingredients rich in protein and fat into their diet. You could include protein sources on a plain sandwich or add cheese to their omelet. Similarly, add whole milk, pasteurizediXA heat-treatment technique that destroys harmful bacteria from foods and drinks cheese, whipped cream, and other milk products to suitable dishes. Serve them nuts and seeds as snacks. Try to increase their meal frequency without inconveniencing them(29).

2. Do children gain weight before they grow in height?

Children might appear to gain weight before their height spurts since the excess fat stored in the body contributes to height growth (30).

3. How can I encourage my child to eat more calorie-dense foods?

Provide calorie-rich foods like avocados, nut butter, whole milk, yogurt, cheese, whole grains, and lean meats across meals and snacks. Offer frequent meals containing calorie-dense foods from different food groups. Eat as many meals as possible with your child to set the right examples and encourage them to eat calorie-rich foods (31).

4. Are there any foods that should be avoided when trying to help a child gain weight?

Sugary beverages, such as fruit juices, processed junk food, foods made with refined grains, and high-calorie foods low in nutrients, such as chips, candies, and cookies, are some foods children should avoid when trying to gain a healthy weight.

5. How can I create a healthy and balanced meal plan for my child to help them gain weight?

Consult a pediatrician or a registered dietitian for a customized diet plan for your child based on their specific needs. Ensure your child’s meal plan provides adequate calories to support weight gain. Include nutrient-dense foods rich in healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and proteins. Offer frequent meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure the child receives sufficient calories. Regularly monitor your child’s weight gain progress, and adjust the meal plan as needed. Work closely with a healthcare professional throughout this process to ensure its safety and efficacy.

6. Can certain foods or nutrients help with muscle development in kids?

Lean meat, poultry, low-mercury fish, eggs, beans, and nuts are some foods that can help in your child’s muscle development. These foods are also good sources of iron, zinc, and B-vitamins (32).

Children require a wholesome, balanced diet for proper growth and development. Include healthy food options for children such as eggs, chicken, milk, yogurt, tofu for proteins, honey, jaggery, fruits, veggies for carbohydrates, nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil for healthy fats. Try presenting the food in a visually appealing form to get your child excited. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and dishes such as pancakes, smoothies, etc., to make them interesting for kids. And remember that even if your child is underweight, overfeeding is not an option. If good eating habits and lifestyles are not causing healthy weight gain, feel free to consult a pediatrician.

Infographic: Foods For Healthy Weight Gain In Children

The general health and well-being of children depend on maintaining a healthy weight. Therefore, a child should eat a balanced diet that contains various nutrient-dense meals from all the food categories. See the infographic below for essential healthy foods for weight gain you should include in your child’s diet.

foods to help your child gain weight healthily (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

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Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Takeaways

  • The ideal weight for a child can be determined using BMI-for-age percentile growth charts.
  • It is advisable to consult a pediatric dietitian to develop a comprehensive diet plan for optimal weight gain.
  • Children should have regular meals along with at least two calorie-rich and nutritious snacks every day.
  • Choosing foods that contain essential nutrients such as protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins is crucial for children.
  • Healthy options for promoting weight gain in children include, eggs, chicken, salmon, tofu, jaggery, honey, and nuts.


Discover the top 10 foods that can effectively help increase weight in children. This video offers valuable insights for parents seeking healthy weight gain solutions.

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. About Child & Teen BMI; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2. 9 Health Benefits of Eating Eggs for Breakfast; University Of Southern California
3. Egg, whole, cooked, hard-boiled; USDA
4. Chicken, boiled, feet; Nutritionvalue.org
5. Fish, salmon, Atlantic, farmed, raw; USDA
6. Tofu, raw, regular, prepared with calcium sulfate; USDA
7. Nath A, Dutta D, Pawan Kumar and Singh JP; Review on Recent Advances in Value Addition of Jaggery based Products; Journal of Food J Processing & Technology (2015)
8. Honey; USDA
9. Nutritional Value of Milk
10. Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D; USDA
11. Yogurt, Greek, plain, nonfat (Includes foods for USDA’s Food Distribution Program); USDA
12. Nuts, mixed nuts, oil roasted, with peanuts, with salt added; USDA
13. Pancakes, plain, prepared from recipe; USDA
14. Cereals, oats, instant, fortified, plain, prepared with water (boiling water added or microwaved); USDA
15. Beans, pinto, mature seeds, raw (Includes foods for USDA’s Food Distribution Program); USDA
16. Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt; USDA
17. Oil, olive, salad or cooking; USDA
18. Bananas, raw; USDA
19. Avocados, raw, all commercial varieties; USDA
20. Hummus; USDA
21. Corn, sweet, white, raw; USDA
22. Beverages, V8 SPLASH Smoothies, Strawberry Banana; USDA
23. Sweet potato, raw, unprepared (Includes foods for USDA’s Food Distribution Program); USDA
24. Potatoes, flesh and skin, raw; USDA
25. Fruit salad, fresh or raw, (including citrus fruits), no dressing; USDA
26. Children’s diet – fruit and vegetables; Better Health
27. Vegetables, mixed, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt; USDA
28. How to help your child gain weight; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
29. Weight changes in kids: Knowing when to act, what to say; Children’s Wisconsin
30. Helping Your Child Gain Weight; State of Wisconsin; Department of Health Services
31. Eating To Grow… Tips for Increasing Calories in Your Child’s Diet; Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
32. Nutrition for Growing Bodies; Academy of Nutrition And Dietetics

33. Weight changes in kids: Knowing when to act, what to say; Children’s Wisconsin

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