In our world of many things sedentary and obesity prevention, I’m consumed with trying to bulk up my older (and little) one. There are a few of us among my group of mom friends with the same problem.  And, then there are those mom friends who are pulling their hair trying to get their kids to eat more healthfully and prevent future problems.

My six year old is quite the healthy eater – my husband jokes he’s been bitten by a radioactive rabbit. His favorite foods are tomatoes and honeydew melon, if that tells you anything. Given a choice of a cookie and a bell pepper, he will drop the cookie he is semi-eating in favor of the pepper slice. Mind you, my daughter is the opposite and has completely inherited my sweet tooth.

My 6-year-old son, happily munching on lettuce leaves. Photo copyright Caroline Margolis.

My 6-year-old son, happily munching on lettuce leaves. Photo copyright Caroline Margolis.

I know, woe is me. Not really though. My six year old son, who has special needs, is on a medicine that helps him focus and open up to the world – the downfall is that it also decreases his appetite. Not good for a kid who is not even on the growth chart and is mistaken for a 3-year-old. I’m constantly asked by a slew of doctors how his appetite is and if he is eating enough as they measure his height and weight. I know those with the opposite problem are getting similar questions – but with different goals in mind.

The question is, how can I get additional calories into my son? He can eat fruits and vegetables all day long, but I really need to get more caloric foods into him. Just give him chips and other “junk” food to help him gain weight, right? Wrong. While that seems like the easy answer, I need to provide additional foods that aren’t empty calories which are foods high in calories, fat and added sugar, but low in nutrients…aka, “junk” food. While they may have a place in his diet, I’m not going to resort to only that.  Growing bodies need protein, fat and vitamins and minerals. And my little boy certainly needs more of the good stuff to help not only grow physically, but mentally as well.

My son keeps quite a busy schedule between school and therapies (it’s our after school activity), so there is not much time to sneak away for an ice cream date – his favorite and only dessert he really likes. Again, not that I would resort to only ice cream….but it does play into my next recommendation.  Take their favorite foods and bulk them up in a healthy way.  Here are some examples that we are trying (or are going to try) that provide a healthy mix of protein, fat, carbohydrates and essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Granola bars are one of my son’s go-to snacks.  I plan on bulking up the protein and mix of healthy fats by finding a “protein” bar my son likes.  I’m looking for ones that they are at least a good source of protein (contains 5 grams or more) and include vitamins and minerals, such as Pro Bar.
  • Peanut (or soy/sunflower) butter contains protein and healthy fats.  Pair with fruits and veggies as a snack, spread on whole grain toast or waffle, or use as a mixer in yogurt or oatmeal.  Make it fun with ants on a log, or apple ring peanut butter sandwiches.
  • Switch from skim to 2% milk.  Switch lowfat yogurt to full fat, with fruits on the side to mix in or use as a dipper.
  • Make fruit smoothies using yogurt, milk and if the doctor approves, some protein powder.
  • Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and other essential nutrients.  I plan on making mini vegetable and egg quiches in muffin pans to freeze and serve at breakfast or snacks.
  • Although my son doesn’t eat them (I wish he did), avocados are a great way to add healthy fats and nutrients into the diet.
  • Beef jerky – an easy snack, high in protein, vitamins and minerals but low in fat.
  • Adding cheese onto veggies (which makes it more appealing for some), whole grain crackers and sandwiches.
  • Add dippers if your kids like them and pair with fruits, veggies and whole grain crackers – cream cheese, yogurt dips, hummus, peanut butter or a bean and cheese dip.

With luck and hopefully an increase in appetite, my son will continue to grow both mentally and physically – and gain a little bit of weight here and there. I’d love to hear your healthy snack/meal ideas that add just a little bit more of those needed calories and nutrients.

 

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  • Erin Abbey

    Curious what your thoughts are on almond butter? I read it’s healthier than peanut butter, tried it and it’s quite yummy. Is it as good of a source of protein and okay for kids?

    thanks!

  • Susan

    My son, Dominic is a very picky eater and underweight. This foodie mom struggles with adding enough calories and the right calories. I have added a pasteurized egg to his fruit smoothies/milk shakes, stir in a scoop of ice cream into his oatmeal. The picky eater part makes it even more difficult, involving him in the grocery shopping and cooking has widen his food choices.

  • Caroline Margolis, RD

    Hi Erin — Yes, Almond butter is a great alternative to peanut butter as long as there is no tree nut allergy. Like peanut butter, almond butter, per serving, contains a mix of healthy fats, is a good source of protein and an excellent source of fiber. However, almonds do contain a more powerful mix of antioxidants, such as vitamin E and other nutrients. Both are still great, healthy choices. Buy natural versions and look for brands that contain only the nut (almond or peanut) and some salt for the most natural, nutrient-dense serving.

    Susan, great tips 🙂

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