For skinny kids and their families life, at times, may seem like it’s Opposite Day every day. While the rest of the country is lamenting about childhood obesity, parents of children whose weight is in the very low percentiles instead worry about healthy weight gain strategies. What’s yet more bewildering, common food rules don’t apply to skinny kids — especially the ones about “watching your weight” that moms have heard from their mothers, aunts and grandmothers since they were little girls. Now that you are feeding a child who is too thin, go ahead, throw traditional dieting wisdom out the window.
10 OPPOSITE Food Rules for Skinny Kids
low-fatWHOLE-MILK dairy products. While dairy products with a reduced fat content may be the more sensible choice for children with normal weight, the same is not true for skinny kids. Whole milk and full-fat dairy products, such as whole-milk cheese or full-fat yogurt, are a great way to provide extra calories. “Keep in mind, there are cultures that don’t skim their dairy, and they don’t have heart disease. That’s because they don’t have the bad eating habits we have in this country,” said ZisBoomBah’s house nutritionist Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD. Don’tDO drown your food. You’ve heard the age-old adage advising not to drench your food in sauce to safe calories. Skinny kids are lucky that way, they get to smother their food in sauce. In fact, Lisa said, “If they eat it, give them a little bowl with extra sauce on the side for dipping.” For example, olive oil, coconut sauce and BBQ sauce add calories without adding bulk. On the sweet side, serve chocolate sauce with your child’s fruit. Do read the label, though, to avoid unnecessary additives. Better yet, make your own chocolate ganache from real food ingredients!
- Gravy IS
nota beverage. I didn’t grow up in the US, but I immediately picked up this traditional American family “food rule” during my first Thanksgiving dinner with my husband’s family. His siblings basically shouted it in unison as soon as anyone reached for the gravy boat. This Thanksgiving, remember Lisa’s words: “Extra gravy is fine for skinny kids. After Thanksgiving, make sandwiches with leftover turkey and put gravy on their sandwich.” Or, again, serve on the side for dipping. Don’tDO train kids’ taste buds to like sweet. “This is not about feeding your underweight child more sugar,” Lisa emphasized. “It’s about choosing sweeter flavors to get them to eat more, because children usually like sweeter flavors.” Don’tDO serve food buffet style. Buffets are tempting; and that’s the point here. All the wonderful food spread out in front of your skinny kid may animate him to try more things and go back for seconds. Don’tDO set food out around the house. The concept is similar to serving dinner buffet style. When you see it, you eat it. Leave a bowl of healthy nuts on the counter, in hope that your skinny child will trap a few every time she walks by. A little basket with nutrition bars, a bowl of fresh fruit or a clear tupperware container with home-baked cookies do the trick. (Just make sure the family members who don’t need to gain weight can keep their hands off the goodies.) Don’tDO wolf down your food. While we wouldn’t exactly want to encourage your too-thin child to mindlessly gobble down her food without chewing properly, Lisa made a good point: “Watching a picky eater eat can be like watching paint dry. A child will feel full before you can get the extra volume or bulk into them. So give an incentive to finish eating in a timely manner.” You could promise to put on her favorite movie as soon as everyone is finished eating or plan a fun art project after dinner that you need to clean the table for. You get the idea. Looking forward to something that will happen right after dinner will motivate your picky eater to move along with her meal. Don’tDO eat after 6 p.m. “We always tell people to eat dessert with dinner and to save room for it so they don’t overeat,” Lisa reported. That’s different for skinny kids. Consider waiting an hour after dinner before having a healthy dessert. That way, they will not be too full. A sensible bedtime snack can also be a good strategy to get extra calories into your underweight child.
- Fresh fruit is NOT always better than dried food. While fresh fruit is an optimal healthy snack for all children, dried fruit has less volume while still providing essential nutrients. As Lisa has said again and again, one of the biggest challenges in feeding skinny kids is getting volume into their tiny tummies. Sometimes, a few bites is all they will eat. Thus, make every bite count. Lisa suggests making your own trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruit. You can even throw in some mini chocolate chips.
DoDON’T eat cheese in moderation. Cheese is fattening, but, again, that’s the intention here. While we usually have to tell kids to hold the cheese, please (because they do love cheese, don’t they), cheese is an ideal vehicle for getting additional calories into your skinny kid. Add extra cheese as a topping or double up the cheese on his whole-grain crackers. Plus, naturally, make it whole-fat cheese (see rule #1).