Helping underweight toddlers gain weight

There is a lot of talk in the media these days about children being overweight, but there are also a number of toddlers who are underweight or have a small appetite. If your child is underweight or has a small appetite, it can be difficult to provide enough calories and protein for adequate growth.

Please take care…

If you are worried about your child – talk to your Health Visitor or GP/doctor and ask them to measure your child’s weight and height. They may also refer your child to a Paediatrician to make sure there is no underlying medical condition causing your child to gain weight slowly.

Factors affecting a child’s appetite:

There are many factors that can affect a child’s appetite, such as tiredness, general illness / fever, constipation and iron deficiency anaemia. Again, speak to your HV or GP if you think your child may have one of the last 2 conditions.

Exercise and active play can help to increase your child’s appetite, so encourage this whenever you can.

So what can you do to help your toddler?

Toddlers have small tummies and so we need to think of ways of increasing the energy and protein density of foods without increasing the volume / bulk of their foods. This means that you will make every mouthful as nutritious as possible…make every bite count!

Some suggestions:

  • Use healthy fats such as avocado and peanut butter as spreads on crackers, toast or sandwiches. You can also use them as a dip for vegetables or breadsticks
  • Use oils/margarine/butter to add to vegetables, rice/pasta, spread thickly on bread and savoury biscuits and to add to soups
  • Use full fat dairy products such as whole milk, full fat cheese and yoghurts. Use whole milk to make custards, white sauces and to add to soups
  • Add cheese to mashed potato, soups, pasta/rice, cut into small blocks as a snack or make a cheese sauce to add to meals/vegetables
  • Eggs – try a hardboiled egg as a snack or an omlette with cheese and vegetables as a high energy and protein meal

What about snacks?

Toddlers have small tummies and need 3 meals as well as 3 snacks per day, especially if they are underweight. See the ‘suggestions’ for some ideas for high energy and protein snacks.

What about fluids and milk?

Don’t let your child fill up on fluids before meals and don’t give too much milk each day – 300ml of milk per day is enough to cover calcium requirements of 1-3 year olds. See my earlier post on ‘Milk – how much is enough?’

And finally, try to look at your child’s intake for one or two weeks not just for one day as everyone has good and bad days!

Please get in touch if you have any questions or feedback by making a comment on the blog or by emailing me at

Paula x


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