Episode #33 Healthy, High-Calorie Foods For Kids
I recently had a mom tell me she wanted to help her child gain weight, and when she spoke with her pediatrician, they told her to “just feed ice cream and cookies and not worry about it.” And while technically this advice might work, she didn’t feel great about it. It puts her in the position of choosing between her child’s nutrition OR their weight, which made her second guess. And I’m glad she did!
In this week’s podcast episode, I want to set the record straight, because you do not have to choose between healthy foods and helping your child gain weight! There’s a third option, which is to add healthy, high-calorie foods into your child’s days. (While still serving treats, sweets, and desserts when it’s appropriate!)
If you’d love to help your child put on weight by eating more calorie-dense foods—or if it’s not about weight, but you’re worried they’re not getting enough calories in the day—this episode will give you ideas, recipes, and tips for adding calories and nutrition to their days.
In This Episode, We Discuss…
- Why certain foods are better than others for weight gain (03:50)
- Healthy, high-calorie foods that can help kids gain weight (08:15)
- Reasons other than weight gain to prioritize high-calorie foods (19:50)
- When the doctor’s recommendation of “let them eat ice cream and cookies” makes sense (21:00)
Listen to the full episode here:
Keep The Calorie Boosting Going With These Resources & Links:
- Recipe: My 5-Ingredient Cereal Bars
- Tiny Sprouts 10% Off Discount Code: MAMAKNOWSNUTRITION
- Blog Post: Healthy Ways to Boost Calories in Your Toddler’s Diet
- Instagram: @MamaKnowsNutrition
Should We Do A High-Calorie Snacks Episode? 🙋🏽♀️ or 🙅🏾♂️
If you’d love an episode specifically on high-calorie snacks, let me know by sending me a DM on Instagram or submit your request to the podcast question box. We love hearing from you, so let us know what would help you and your family!
Episode #33: High-Calorie Foods For Kids (Complete Transcript)
I heard this recently from a mom, but it’s not the only time I’ve heard it. She asked her pediatrician about helping her child gain weight, and the pediatrician told her to just give her daughter lots of ice cream and cookies and not worry about it.
And while I do think it’s okay for kids over 2 to have dessert, I like it to be more in moderation, and not become the focus of their diet. Because growing children should get lots of good nutrients—and it’s not necessary to completely sacrifice their nutrition in the name of gaining weight.
It’s not a black and white thing though, so today I’ll talk through healthy high-calorie foods for kids to gain weight (also known as calorie dense foods), why certain foods are better than others for weight gain, other reasons you may want to prioritize high-calorie foods—even if you’re not explicitly worried about extra weight gain—and when the doctor’s recommendation of “let them eat ice cream and cookies” might be appropriate.
Welcome back to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy, I’m Kacie Barnes, RDN and mom of 2, in Dallas, TX with a Master of Clinical Nutrition degree and several years’ experience working with toddlers and preschoolers in nutrition counseling and education.
Feeding Toddlers Made Easy is the place for you to get down-to-earth and research-backed tips for feeding your little ones. But like, without the nutrition police intensity, without the mom guilt. Helpful information but with a side of grace and understanding for all the million things on your plate as a parent or a caregiver.
High-Calorie Foods That Helps Kids Gain Weight
There are lots of high-calorie foods for kids that I also would consider to be healthy. Long gone are the days of low-fat, low-calorie everything—thank goodness!—because that style of eating is not doing kids any favors.
Do you remember Snackwell’s cookies? If you grew up in the 90s in the United States, I’m gonna guess you had these in your house at some point. Talk about ruining cookies! Although, I guess it’s not that different from some of those super low-calorie “ice creams” they have now, like Halo Top or Enlightened. You can eat a whole pint for like 300 calories and a side of stomach cramps!
So we know that the definition of healthy isn’t low-calorie. Because lots of studies have shown us that eating dietary fat doesn’t make you unhealthy or overweight, and that there’s a lot of benefits to eating enough calories—like growing and developing properly for kids, and for adults, things like maintaining healthy muscle mass, keeping your menstruation, having good functioning organs… the list is LONG.
And, we don’t have to be afraid of serving high-calorie foods to our little ones. You can feed a kid a LOT of calorie dense foods without it making them gain TOO much weight or be unhealthy.
How Can I Add Calories To My Kids’ Food?
If you are trying to help your child gain more weight or take in more calories, adding fat to their meals and snacks is the best way to do it. Fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein. Plus, fat is less filling than protein. So the combination of it being higher in calories AND doesn’t feel quite as filling is that sweet spot that helps us boost up their caloric intake, or how many calories they are eating.
It can look like they are eating less quantity, but I’m sure you can understand that 2 tbsp of carrots is going to have a lot less calories than 2 tbsp of peanut butter. So don’t get caught up too much in the AMOUNT of food you see them eating, or how much of their plate is emptied. Having a clean plate means literally nothing, and I strongly recommend against enforcing the “clean plate club” or “happy plate” I’ve heard it called. What’s more important is a full, content, calm belly, than training your little human to eat past fullness and look to you to tell them when they’ve had enough to eat, when really they can listen to the cues that are transmitted from their stomach to their brain.
So, we talked about why high fat foods are better than high protein foods when we want to get more calories in: Fat is less filling than protein, which means they usually can eat a little more, and it has more calories per gram, so that’s why a tablespoon of olive oil has more calories than a tablespoon of chicken or a tablespoon of pasta. They do NOT need to do a keto diet, which I know is popular these days, but generally unnecessary and when I say to add fat, I do not mean to replace everything else in their diet with fat alone.
But, a lot of kids I see having a harder time putting on weight are the kids who love their fruits and/or veggies and will happily eat a plate of just fruit and veg and call that a meal. And when I’ve worked one on one with clients who aren’t gaining appropriately, I almost always find that they eat a low-fat diet. I’ll go through each of the meals of the day and show you how to add more fat while still maintaining an overall balanced, healthy diet.
High-Calorie, Healthy Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Foods for Kids
- Avoid puffed cereals. Instead, choose granolas or other hearty cereals that have clusters, nuts, dried fruits.
- Love Grown granola has about 110-120 calories per ⅓ cup which is about the same as ¾ cup of Cheerios, so they’re getting a good amount of calories even in a small serving (but it’s not as high in sugar as other granolas)
- Use Whole Milk or Silk Original Almond & Cashew Protein Milk in cereal. You can even add some heavy cream or canned coconut milk if they’ll eat it! Or, do a whole milk or triple cream yogurt, NOT Greek.
- Try Siggi’s Triple Cream Vanilla, Raspberry, Lemon! Add some favorite cereal or granola, or chia seeds/ground flax seeds (start with 1 tsp).
- Serve Hot Cereal. Think oatmeal with milk and butter, cream, or canned coconut milk. (Consider adding dried fruit like raisins or dates, too!) Or, go with grits with butter.
- Make These 5-Ingredient Cereal Bars.
- Add Butter or Nut Butter to Muffins.
- Serve Breakfast Meats, Like Sausage, In Moderation.
- Cook Eggs in Butter or Oil & Do NOT Skip The Yolk!
- Make Avocado Toast. But add butter or brush on oil to the toast before the avocado for more calories!
- Serve French Toast! Use whole grain bread, whole milk and cream, cook it in butter, and add syrup on top.
The best high-calorie drink options for kids are:
- 100% juice (but serve it with a meal). Aim for 4-6 oz/day of grape, orange, or apple juice.
- Whole milk
TIP: Don’t let them guzzle water right before a meal!
- Banana (Add PB and sprinkles of flax)
- Dried Figs
- Sandwich With Mayonnaise. Either spread on, or mixed in—like in chicken or egg salad.
- Sandwich with Peanut Butter (or another nut butter).
- Grilled cheese sandwiches.
- Bean & Cheese Quesadilla. Serve with guacamole and chips!
- Cream Cheese and Jelly Sandwich
- Cream Cheese on a Bagel
- Pizza Bagel
- Avocado Tortilla
- Rice With Butter and Parmesan
- Pasta With Alfredo Sauce (or Pesto, Butter, or Olive Oil)
- Mashed Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes With Butter/Cream
- Roasted Veggies in Avocado or Olive Oil
- Higher-Fat Meats Like:
- Chicken Thighs
- Chicken Legs
- 93% Lean Turkey (Instead Of 99%)
- Around 90% Ground Beef
- Salmon (Instead Of Tilapia)
- Salad Dressings as Dips Or Spread; Croutons with Salad
- Peanut Noodles
- Chicken Parm
- Baked Ziti
- Potato Coconut Curry with Chickpeas
If you want another episode talking about high-calorie snacks, let me know by sending me a DM on Instagram @mamaknowsnutrition. Or, submit it to the podcast question box at mamaknowsnutrition.com/podcast.
Other Ways to Add Calories To Your Kids’ Foods
I want to mention another way to add calories to their food: Add seeds like chia seeds or flax seeds! I like both ground because they mix-in better, and they have more fat than hemp seeds—although I like hemp seeds too!
The brand I like the best for young kids is Tiny Sprouts. They’re new, and you can use code MAMAKNOWSNUTRITION for 10% off! You can add ground seeds to yogurt, oatmeal, muffin or pancake mix, mix into nut butter in a sandwich or as a dip for apples or carrots, and even stir into stews and sauces. Those are the main places I add them in. You can start with about a teaspoon mixed into a portion of what they’re eating, and if they tolerate it well, you can add another teaspoon. They can have it more than once in a day, too. It’s a good way to add healthy calories to the foods they are already eating.
When To Prioritize High-Calorie Foods for Kids
You may want to prioritize high-calorie foods for your kids even if you’re not explicitly worried about extra weight gain. Some examples of when this makes sense include:
- When you have a short amount of time to eat (morning rush for example)
- If your kids are easily distracted at meals
When To Serve High-Calorie Sweets & Treats
Oh, and let’s talk about WHEN to follow that pediatrician’s advice (which wouldn’t be every pediatrician’s advice) of “just let them eat as much ice cream and cookies as they want.”
This is kind of an “if all else fails” scenario—not the first approach you’d try when looking to increase calories or help them gain weight. It also can help to be a bonus meal, to do a dessert after dinner, to squeeze in some extra calories even when they are not really hungry. It also can be a helpful strategy if they have been restricted from these foods in the past.
That’s it for today! Stay awesome and try to stay healthy!