Adding calories to your child’s diet

Many parents have strategies for cutting calories from their diets, but have no idea how to add calories to their kids’ diets.

Why add calories when childhood obesity is such a national epidemic? To be sure, not all children need calorie-fortified diets. But, if your child is low on the growth curve, with an uneven height/weight ratio, your pediatrician may suggest you add fat to your kid’s diet. Fat is crucial for brain development, and there are several healthful, easy ways to add fat and calories to your kid’s food without resorting to junk or weighing down your own diet.

  • Add a thin layer of butter to all sandwiches, including PB and J. Butter the bread lightly, then add your usual toppings and condiments. The butter is mild enough to add richness without much flavor.
  • Add a tablespoon of cream to your child’s milk, cereal, pasta dishes, soups, and anything else you can think of. Don’t add much — the cream’s richness can become cloying, even for kids.
  • Add a dollop of butter or a little olive oil to steamed vegies, rice, cooked pasta, potatoes, stir fry, and other mixed dishes your child enjoys.
  • If you serve only whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas, consider the "white" alternatives occasionally. The extra fiber in whole-grain products, while super-healthy, can fill kids up quickly, zapping their calorie intake. (This, by the way, is a good reason for most adults to eat mostly whole grains.)
  • Nut butters are your friends. In sandwiches, desserts, sauces, and even some soups and stews, peanut, almond, cashew, sesame seed, and even soy nut butters do wonders.
  • Avocados, any which way.
  • Fruit smoothies, with a bit of cream, bananas, and other fruits, do well.
  • Fry Cheerios in butter, let dry on a cookie sheet, then serve for breakfast and snacks. Delicious when mixed with raisins.

We welcome your suggestions — add a comment!

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  1. eriq says

    If you kid is like mine, and a number of other kids I know of, they’ll just eat the butter straight! Maybe a tablespoon or two at a time.

  2. Chuk says

    You can buy supplements that are basically pure powdered calories (the one we use for my daughter now is called Duocal, but there are others.) They mostly dissolve pretty easily in any liquidy food and don’t taste like much. They may be expensive, though.

  3. Laura says

    Our kids beg for peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches. The Nutella has chocolate in it so they get a treat, but it also has protein and FIBER that you won’t find in jelly (mucho importante for our incredibly picky 5-year old who won’t eat fruits or vegetables).

  4. Dave says

    other high calorie foods we try to get into our 3 yr old daughter

    cheeses (she likes it shredded)
    dried fruits – raisins, etc. I chopped them finer when she was younger.

  5. Dave says

    other high calorie foods we try to get into our 3 yr old daughter

    cheeses (she likes it shredded)
    olives (sliced jarred pizza olives)
    dried fruits – raisins, etc. (I chopped them finer when she was younger.)

  6. BB says

    Word on the avocados, but careful with nuts for kids under two–most peds advise against them to reduce the chances of developing a severe allergy leading to anaphylaxis with later exposure. Too bad, because they’re full of good stuff.

  7. Colin says

    Second the comments on nuts; you’ll also find that a lot of nursery schools ban PBJs because of nut allergies among the inmates.

    For smaller toddlers, cream cheese rolled into marble sized balls works pretty well. Tasty, and sticks to the hands en route to the mouth. I had trouble containing my jealousy that this was encouraged for her, and I got my hand smacked when trying the same thing…

  8. says

    I added olive oil (extra light so there wasn’t too strong a flavor) to the following home-made babyfoods: spinach, sweet potatoes, and sopa seca (hispanic rice dish – babies love this stuff). Also goes nicely with refried beans.

  9. says

    A vote here for almond butter. My girls love it and we’re off peanut butter until they’re five because of a potential peanut allergy. Almonds are apparently a safe nut in this case but I don’t know about kids that have an actual nut allergy.

    Our girls, as a result of being twins and coming from two families of tiny women, are barely on the charts and we feed them all the good fat we can. Of course if they had their way they would live on french fries.

  10. says

    I remember boosting my kid’s milk with cream to bring it from 20 calories/oz to 24 calories/oz.

    I noticed this holiday season that eggnog has a whopping 42.5 calories/oz. That should put some hair on the kid’s chest.

  11. Anonymous says

    Kids, in general won’t starve themselves, an important thing is not to get anxious about what they’re eating.

    We always try to make our girl part of meal-times, if they see others eating they’re happier to do it themselves and don’t get as bored. As soon as she could tell her food wasn’t the same as our we gave her mashed up portions of whatever we were having. Meat is a good source of calories and she will happily eat tons of wafer thin sandwich ham / chicken etc. Full fat fromage frais, and yogurt are also favourites.

  12. Tess says

    My son is very low on the growth curve, and our doctor recommended a few things, you can add powdered milk to lots of different things and it actually adds to their diets. Also Carnation instant breakfest drink mixes. They are healthy and have lots of vitamins and minerals that children need if they aren’t eating like they should. Our son thinks he’s getting a treat when he gets flavored milk :). You can also use pediasure, but it is one of the more expensive of the alternitives that we were given.