Healthy Eating for Underweight Kids

We all worry about our children as they grow and develop. You hear a lot about kids being overweight these days, but some parents struggle with underweight children.

Before worrying too much about your thin child, keep in mind that growth charts are based on averages. The focus should always be on helping your child stay healthy overall while instilling positive eating and exercise habits.

What’s a “Normal” Weight for Kids?

Let’s start with a look at the recommended weight for children.

Most doctors use Body Mass Index or this growth chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A child who falls below the 5th percentile is considered underweight.

For example, a 6-year-old who weighs about 36 or 37 pounds is in the 5th percentile. A 10-year-old who weighs 55 pounds falls into the 5th percentile. At the 5th percentile, thresholds for girls and boys are mostly the same.

These numbers do not account for height. Only your doctor can give you a better idea of where your child falls on these charts by including stature. If your child is underweight, talk to your doctor about your child’s overall health and nutrition. Look for any nutritional deficiencies (anemia, lacking calcium or vitamin D), medication side effects, or unhealthy behaviors that may cause your child to not gain weight.

RELATED: 4 Tips for Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy

What Can I Do to Help My Child Gain Weight?

Although your first inclination may be to try to fatten up your child, remember that he or she will go through many growth spurts and changes over the years. Rather than focus on your child’s size, which may create unhealthy feelings, encourage the whole family to develop healthy habits. Talk to your child about nutrition, and how eating the right foods makes our bodies stronger.

Healthy Eating Habits for Kids

First, take inventory of your child’s current eating habits:

  • What is he or she getting too much of? Too little of?
  • What will he or she eat or not eat?

Then develop an eating schedule based on your child’s needs and habits. He or she may not be able to sit down and eat a lot at once. Instead, offer multiple, nutrient-dense snacks throughout the day with three modest-sized meals, for example.

Here are a few tips on how to get your kid to eat vegetables

Make the calories your child consumes count:

  • Go for nuts, seeds, cheese, fruit, and whole-grain bread or crackers for snacks.
  • Offer strawberries with vanilla yogurt for dipping after school. Get more ideas with this guide to healthy after-school snack.
  • Spread peanut butter on a whole-grain tortilla, top with banana slices and wrap it up for breakfast on the go.
  • At dinner, opt for lean meats or seafood with vegetables and whole grains.
  • For a picky eater, you may need to be a little sneakier. Does your child only eat macaroni and cheese? Try steaming and pureeing cauliflower and mixing it into the cheese sauce. Start with small amounts so he or she won’t notice.
  • Bake your own muffins and cookies to include ingredients with more power, such as ground flax seed or wheat germ. This breakfast cookie recipe from The Sneaky Chef packs a healthy punch with sweet flavor. Mix in mini chocolate chips to make it even more of a treat.

Exercises for Kids

As you focus on food, don’t overlook exercise. More movement can build your child’s appetite and muscle mass. Take lessons, ride a bike, or play games in the yard. Make a point to help your child get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.

Genetics also play a role in being thin, and your child may have a higher-than-normal metabolism. By focusing on health, you’ll help your child stay strong with a positive body image.