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I’ll never forget standing in the pediatrician’s office looking at the growth chart. It had a flat line on it! What? But I’m a dietitian! And my kid eats a healthy diet!
The pediatrician had been on our case since my son was 6 months old. We were even pouring cream in milk to add calories. It’s hard when you have a child who is super active and also super not into eating. I know you may have been there.
We talked to several pediatricians to see if it would be appropriate to test him for common causes of growth issues (there are others too, but all need to be discussed with a pediatrician):
- Growth hormones
- Common allergies
- Celiac disease
All those came back negative.
I also did a calorie analysis of everything my child was eating. I am, after all, a dietitian. And I learned that he wasn’t eating all that many calories. Enough calories to live, but not always enough to grow. And of course he loved vegetables and fruit (the lowest calorie foods)!
So, what do we do for those kids who are healthy, active, and not interested in eating. We make every single bite count and we use an eating routine..
I made it my full time job (on the side of my other full time job) to make calorie-dense foods. I added calories to everything.
Here’s my list of calorie boosters. Calorie boosters are things you can add to food. You can even add them to high-calorie food!
After implementing this lifestyle for 3 months, we went to our “height check” appointment with the pediatrician. Guess what? Our little guy had maintained his curve! Remember, a low percentile isn’t bad. Healthy kids come in all percentiles. Most kids stay around their percentiles over time. It’s only if the child is falling lots and lots of percentiles over time. Maintaining my child’s percentile is what we are shooting for. It’s not healthy to try to feed a child extra calories in hopes that they will somehow increase their percentiles or because you think they are too thin. A pediatrician will let you know if your kid is struggling with growth.
1. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is my favorite. It is relatively flavorless, so it blends into almost any food. I add a little pour of it to everything from oatmeal, soup, bread (under the butter), yogurt, and anything else I can think of. I just leave it on my counter we use it so fast.
It’s also great for cooking.
If a recipe called for applesauce in muffins, I use avocado oil instead. I take a low calorie recipe and make it a high calorie recipe using avocado oil.
Additionally, I add it to his smoothies. He’s not much of a smoothie guy though. He went for peanut butter, milk, and banana “milkshakes,” however, and I add a bit of avocado oil to that.
Put it in everything. Unless of course your child is allergic to avocado. Then for sure avoid it.
2. Grass-fed Butter
I’m not really on the “anti-butter” train. In fact, I frequently would cut butter slabs into shapes and put them in his preschool lunches! Butter is available all the time for my kiddo.
I go for grass-fed butter when I can. What is that? Grass-fed butter is butter made from milk of cow’s who primarily eat grass. There is a difference.
Conventional cow’s milk in the U.S. can have a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. We get a lot of omega-6s in our diets in the United States and it leads to inflammation and other things. What we need is a lot more omega-3s in our diet.
Grass-fed cows make milk that has almost an ideal ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. This makes it much better for us! Additionally, Grass-fed cows make milk that has higher levels of CLA. CLA is a fatty acid that is also heart-healthy.
Dairy isn’t for everyone and some people choose not to eat it. For now, we do eat dairy and I choose grass-fed whenever I can.
3. Coconut Oil
Remember how I’m not on the “anti-butter” train? I’m also not on the “coconut oil miracle” train. I just try to stay off trains (unless they take me to work). I don’t think coconut oil will solve the world’s problems, but I do think it’s a great option for adding calories.
My kiddo enjoys having the coconut flavor added to baked goods, smoothies, and oatmeal. I often add both coconut oil and avocado oil to keep the flavors from being overpowering.
My take on fats and oils is that using a variety is best.
NOTE: Olive oil is also a great option for adding calories. I do use it big time for pasta. Other than that, I find the flavor is distracting for the kids and then they don’t want to eat the food. It all depends on your kiddo though and the flavor of your olive oil.
Same goes for other nut and seed oils. If you have one you love, you can go for it. I usually recommend “cold-pressed,” and in a dark bottle from a brand name sources.
4. Full Fat Dairy
For a kiddo who needs calories, full fat dairy can be a lifesaver (if they can have dairy). Always choose full-fat yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, cheese, and even cream. Cream can be added to whole milk for more calories.
In fact, full fat dairy products can be added to other things to add calories. Also all of the oils I mentioned above can also be added to full fat dairy.
I used to serve full fat sour cream with a touch of vanilla, a pour of avocado oil, and some honey. This homemade “pudding” thing was RICH. Great calorie booster.
As I mentioned above, I choose grass-fed when possible. I have a milk video highlight on my Instagram if you want some more nuanced info on milk!
5. Ground Nuts and Nut Butter
Fine ground nuts can be used at any age and can be sprinkled on anything from oatmeal, applesauce, and yogurt. Anything at all. Soup too. You can grind them in a food processor and then keep them in the fridge for using over a few weeks.
Nut butter is really a big bang for your buck calorie-wise. For small kids, spoons and globs of peanut butter is a choking risk. So, spread it thin on bread. For kids 4 and older, they can have larger spreads of peanut butter and use it as a dip safely.
Nut butters are great to put into smoothies. I mentioned my son’s favorite calorie-boosting “milkshake” before. Here’s the recipe:
2 cups of whole milk
2 tsp of avocado oil
¼ cup of peanut butter
Makes 2 shakes with about 450 calories each.
Sweeteners are also a great way to add calories for kids over 2. We don’t want to make everything sweet or overly sweet, as this will train them to only want sweet foods. But we can be slightly more liberal with our “sweet” policy. We can add sweeteners to some foods. Here are my favorite sweeteners for added calories:
- Maple syrup
- Raw honey (okay after age 1)
Wait! How did ketchup make my list? Well, my kid LOVES it. It doesn’t add that many calories on its own, but it does make him pack down those roasted potatoes with avocado oil. Sometimes, a little “sauce” makes the high calorie food go down!
I like Maple syrup because it actually has vitamins and minerals in it. So, the calories they get are not completely “empty” of other nutrients.
Finally, I LOVE raw honey, because it has so many awesome medicinal qualities (unless you have pollen allergies, then it might not be for you!) Honey is great for coughs, the immune system, and lots of other things. It’s a great option for a sweetener and a little goes a long way.