Skinny Kids: How to boost meals for healthy weight gain

Submitted by on April 14, 2012 – 9:01 pm17 Comments
family having breakfast in bed

To help your skinny child gain weight healthfully, “make every bite count,” says ZisBoomBah’s nutritionist.

Parents of skinny kids often get confusing or conflicting information about what their skinny kids should be eating. “Just because they are thin, doesn’t mean they have the right to eat junk,” said one mom who we interviewed as part of our exclusive series on children with low bodyweight. “I think it’s important for them to eat healthy.” In fact, this particular mom had been left a little irked, to say the least, by her pediatrician’s advice to feed her skinny twins Happy Meals to “fatten them up.” Weight gain meals, can, and need to be, healthy. 

It’s disheartening. The frustration at the face of this kind of unhelpful advice is more than understandable. But what’s a parent to do? How can you help skinny kids gain weight — or at least not drop any more — in a healthful way? Once again, we sat down with ZisBoomBah’s nutrition expert Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD to get professional insight into planning weight gain meals and choosing healthy foods for weight gain.

Lisa says the reason why it is challenging to get your thin child to eat extra calories is that her stomach is not any larger than that of the next kid. She won’t be willing to eat more. Therefore, instead of adding more mass to your child’s diet, it is essential to focus on giving her denser, high-quality nutrition. “Make every bite count,” Lisa said. Start by trying some of the weight gain meals and healthy foods for weight gain below to see what your skinny kid might love the most. 

Boosting Meals for Weight Gain: 20 expert tips on helping skinny kids gain weight healthfully

  1. “The difference between a meal and a snack is only size,” Lisa reminded us. “So if you have leftovers from dinner, that can be a snack.”
  2. Try to include a glass of 100% fruit juice or milk with every meal instead of water. Want more info? Read “Skinny Kids: Why whole-milk products and 100% Juice are better choices
  3. Add healthful fats from nuts and seeds to your child’s diet. For example, you can add nuts to his cereal or make a healthy trail mix. Add chocolate chips to the trail mix if it makes your kid want to eat more.
  4. Served on whole-wheat crackers, nut butters are another great snack that includes healthful fats from nuts.
  5. Stir almond butter in your child’s oatmeal, and make it with whole milk instead of water.
  6. Buy full-fat cheese sticks, rather than reduced fat varieties.
  7. Add rich sauces to foods.
  8. Sprinkle shredded full-fat cheese on foods to add calories.
  9. “Use small grains like couscous or quinoa and angel hair pasta, because you are going to get more of it in a cup,” Lisa encouraged.
  10. Give your child dark meat poultry instead of white. “The dark meat has more fat and more iron,” Lisa said.
  11. Serve Salmon instead of white fish.
  12. “Sauté and cook vegetables in olive oil, canola oil or peanut oil for those extra good fats. “Good fat adds calories but doesn’t contribute to fullness,” Lisa explained.
  13. Starchy veggies are more calorie-dense  — e.g. sweet potatoes or butternut squash.
  14. If you serve marinara sauce in a meal, add extra olive oil to your kids portion.
  15. Kids love muffins. Bake your with extra nuts, seeds and fruit juice or puree. Check out ZisBoomBah’s delicious healthy muffin recipes.
  16. Instead of handing your child an apple, give him apple sauce, which is more dense.
  17. Serve granola or muesli for breakfast instead of flakes or puffed cereals.
  18. Add dried fruit to cereals and salads for calorie density.
  19. Try hemp or soy milk, as they are higher in calories than skim milk.
  20. Fruit smoothies are a great way to add density. “You could even add peanut butter or chocolate to your child’s smoothie,” Lisa suggested.
Orange Frothy

Check out ZisBoomBah’s smoothie recipes for kids.

Did you know?

Our “Get Cooking!” section for kids on has an entire section with super-easy recipes for drinks and smoothies, including weight gain meals and foods for healthy weight gain your child will want to try out … and make by himself!  Explore it together now.

Also read “Skinny Kids: 12 possible causes“, “Skinny Kids: How do you know your child is malnourished?” and “Skinny Kids: Moms reveal issues they face every day.”

Out of the above weight gain meals and healthy foods for weight gain, there is sure to be a few that your child will enjoy eating regularly. These weight gain meals are delicious and can be adapted easily for the rest of your family. Healthy, delicious meal options abound if you are a parent feeding a skinny kid. 

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Categories: General, Healthy Meals and Activities for Kids, Issues, Menus and Snacks, Skinny Kids


  • LM says:

    It is so nice to see an article on weight gain. Most available articles are on weight loss. It’s so hard to find good suggestions in this area. Some of the athletic and body building sites that discuss nutrition have some useful suggestions though. Would love to see other food recommendations for this topic, especially for finicky eaters and those with allergies (other than the 8 that are now popular in the media).

    Am curious why fruit juice is recommended instead of water. Most nutrition information I read recommends whole fruits over fruit juice. Fruit juice is higher in sugar content (and the fructose form of sugar puts more stress on internal organs like the liver). Also, acidic drinks such as fruit juices can detrimentally affect the teeth.

    Also, was surprised to see full fat milk products such as cheese recommended. Had considered this, but most of the articles I read and doctors/nutritionists I’ve talked to recommend low fat even wait gain is mentioned. It’s supposed to be safer for the heart and cholesterol levels.

    One other thing that’s very important to me with regards to diet (no matter whether you’re trying to gain or to lose) is to avoid the artificials additivies, artificial colors, preservatives, etc. and try eat as naturally as possible. It can be especially important for those with food allergies (whether those allergies are known or unknown). I wish there was better labeling of the ingredients in foods though, because often some allergen is lurking in a food and it isn’t listed because the amount is considered legally to small to require mention.

    Thanks again for the food ideas. If you come up with others, would love to read about them.

  • Sandra Henderson says:

    Thank you so much for your feedback and sharing your insight. We will definitely pass your questions on to our nutrition experts. And, we promise to bring you more on the topic. The articles in our skinny kids series that we have already published are consistently among our most-read articles on the blog, so we know there is a need.

    Warm regards,
    ZisBoomBah Editor / Writer

  • Sandra Henderson says:

    Dear LM — Your comments about full-fat dairy products and 100% for underweight were so insightful, we thought the answers from our nutrition expert, Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD, would be helpful to other parents of skinny kids as well. We therefore posted a new blog article today, addressing your — and so many other parents’ — challenges of navigating general kids nutrition recommendations that nowadays are largely written with the opposite problem in mind: preventing and fighting childhood obesity.

    Here it is:

    Skinny Kids: Why whole-milk products and 100% Juice are better choices –

    In addition, Lisa would like to give you more individualized advice regarding the food allergies you were talking about. She would like to know which food allergies your child or your family is specifically dealing with. You can either respond publicly here on the blog or send me an email directly at We’ll be glad to get you more expert help!


  • Nimmi says:

    Very useful article. My son, nearly 5 years of age, is allergic to soya, milk, peanuts and all meat/fish products. He used to be allergic to eggs and wheat but has overcome it. Any advice in improving his diet to gain weight will be very helpful. Thanks in advance!

  • Sandra Henderson says:

    Hello Nimmi,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It sounds like your son’s allergies are really limiting your food repertoire, and I can understand that it would be challenging to help him reach/maintain a healthy weight. I have forwarded your message to our nutrition expert.

    Best wishes,
    ZisBoomBah Editor / Writer

  • Sandra Henderson says:

    Hello again, Nimmi — we’ve got an answer for you! ZisBoomBah nutritionist Lisa Lanzano provided a list of foods you may want to try for your son. Since this info will be helpful to so many other parents of kids with food allergies, we posted it on the blog, here:

    All the best, and please keep us posted on how your son’s diet and weight are coming along.

  • Diane says:


    I took my son (5) to school today in shorts and a T-shirt, standing up next to his peers made me so sad, as he is tall but really skinny. Im so lost what to do. My side of the family are very skinny and tall, which I except but my son has food allergies. Mainly dairy, soya and egg and he is a fussy eater. He’s so quick to dismiss foods, it can be very embarrassing when we are out publicly or with family. I ignore this as I don’t want to make it worst but Its so hard and im so desperate to find a way forward.

    Can you recommended foods that would suitable for him.


  • N.Nandini says:

    My son is 7 years old now. He is slightly short and weigh only 18 Kgs. He is also fussy eater. We are pure vegetarians. Can you please suggest some food for his weight gain.

  • Karen Laszlo says:

    Hi! I sent you a not requesting more information for our nutritionist. Please let me know if you received it! Thanks.

  • Brandi says:

    Hi all!!! My son is 7 yr 2 mo. And has not gained weight in over 1 1/2 yrs. and is in 3rd percentile for height. He has had lots of sinus probs, pneumonia, etc. and been hospitalized several times (the last in July because he had an unknown infection that caused him to go neutropenic). He even had the flu twice in 2months this year after having a flu shot. We did find out that he has severe reflux disease and we are awaiting an endoscopy and esophagus biopsy. His immunoassays are normal and they think all his reflux (147 times in 24hr according to probe) has caused the pneumonia and sinus problems. Can the reflux cause no growth problems or should I do something else. He takes ppi’is, follows his “reflux” diet but is stuck at 43-45 lb. after being at the top of the charts as an infant.

  • Karen Laszlo says:

    Hi Brandi,

    This sounds like a tough situation. We are passing this on to our specialist Keith Ayoob and will post his answer upon his response.

    Take care!

  • Gloria says:

    Hi my son is 12 and weighs 68 pounds. He is in the 5th% of the weight chart for the past 3-4 years. He’s average height, but considering his parents are 5’9 and 6’4, he’s a little below what he should be. He has a tic disorder which has been explained to me that he can be also be fidgety. He does not nor ever displayed this at school as he is a well behaved straight a student. He is active with track, football and karate. He is picky due to sensory issues. Goods he used to like are now irritating to his tongue. So he spits out a lot of food. I would add whole milk and peanut butter to his diet but just recently found out he has inherited high cholesterol. I have no clue what to add to his diet. He’s not self conscious as we focus on health versus weight, but any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • G.A.Vaakshi says:

    My son is 7 year old is very fussy eating child n his weight is 18kg. we are pure vegetarian, pls suggest me good nutricious food for him n how make him eat healthy foods.

  • Karen Laszlo says:

    Hi V! Can you tell us more about what he will eat? his activity level? Thanks!

  • Karen Laszlo says:

    Hi G! I am passing this to our nutritionist. We will notify you as we hear back. Thanks for posting.

  • Dianne says:

    My son is 18kg and just turned 8 years old. He is on the 3rd percentile and has always been the smallest in his class. He eats like a bird and what makes it worse is that his molars are coming out and bites his cheek at times and complains that his mouth hurts, and refuses to eat full stop!! We try not to make a fuss and let him eat as much as he wants of dinner (he eats what we eat (rice, veg, soup, pasta, bread) no special meals for him) but barely eats a 5th of his bowl/plate and is especially adverse to the texture of meat. He is hyperactive and will burn any calorie that comes near him, I don’t know where he gets his energy from if he hardly eats anything. Perhaps if he slowed down, he’d be a bit heavier, but he is skinny AND short, my mother in law never lets up on letting me know how neglectful of a mother I am, frustrated is not the word );

  • Rasheedah says:

    My son is 6. slightly short and skinny. He is also a picky eater. Pls i need to know healthy high calorie, high protein diet he can be taking to atleast make him gain a little more weight. Thanks

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