Friday, April 18, 2014

Foods to Fatten Your Teeny Tiny Toddler Up

Do you have a skinny mini toddler you are trying to get to gain weight? You hear about kids being picky, or only wanting to eat one particular food, but what do you do when your child just never wants to eat?! Its so frustrating! If you are in the same boat as us, I totally feel your pain - its super stressful and you feel so helpless at times!

Scouring pinterest I see tons of pins about getting toddlers to eat healthy or ideas of how to sneak vegetables into their diet, but not many options or ideas on what to feed toddlers to help them gain weight!

We finally went to the Growth & Development Clinic at Seattle Children's Hospital after a two month wait and we learned some great tips, adjustments to recipes and food ideas! So thought I would share what we learned with anybody who's looking for ways to help get their tiny toddler to fatten up!

The idea of "fattening up" seems so unhealthy and opposite of what we as adults consider a good diet doesn't it? But fat is so important for babies and kids, they need it not just for their physical growth but also for their brain development. So when Allie's weight really started to drop and she wasn't on the chart anymore we definitely got worried and a little panicked. Its been a very emotional few months :( feeling like a failure as a parent, feeling helpless when she pushes food away and clamps her mouth shut, feeling stressed over every meal, feeling frustrated with well-meaning family not understanding why we were concerned (after all skinny is good right? But not for developing babies!). It's been a huge source of stress so we were really happy to finally meet with specialists and see what they said.

I won't bore people with all the details of the 3 hour appointment (feel free to email me if it would be helpful to you!) - there were measurements, they watched us feed her, watched her physically eat, saw how we interacted with her, how we responded when she swatted the food away and shook her head no and did the "all done" sign. Luckily she doesn't have a motor or physical impairment affecting her eating (one of the things the specialists look for - chewing, swallowing functions, aversion to texture, etc.). With her its more a high metabolism, not much of an appetite and probably her genetic makeup is that she will be on the petite side. So they gave us some good tips to make the calories count since she doesn't have a big appetite. Thus we are cooking everything for her with full cream, extra olive oil, extra cheese, double the butter <insert Paula Dean butter diet joke here> you get the idea! You get so used to cooking "healthy" or cutting calories for you and your spouse that you forget food can be more made a lot more fattening.

(And yah, cooking separate meals? I know, add that to my delusional pre-baby "I will never" list. I famously told my mother, "I will never cook a separate meal for my kid. She will eat what I eat or go hungry." HA HA HA, oh how the fates are laughing at me. Yeah, except when your child's health and development is at stake and you are so desperate for them to eat you'll do anything!)

So here are some of the awesome food ideas that we got from the Growth & Development Clinic and some of the things that have worked best for us. This is the nutshell version, all the above food ideas and all sorts of nutrition info are available at Seattle Children's here:

Make adjustments to your recipe aka cook like you're trying to cook for Paula Dean, Fat Bastard and the Ditka Super Fans...(obviously I was a teen in the 90's ;))
  • Add extra butter (don't just put a little bit of butter on the grilled cheese sandwich, SLATHER it on. Put more butter than a sane person would.)
  • Use whipping cream instead of milk in your recipes (best tip ever! whipping cream is calorie loaded. No wonder I love it on pie. mmmm.)
  • Add cream cheese (i.e. to things like box macaroni & cheese)
  • Add extra olive oil (add it to soup, double the amount in your recipe, etc)
  • Add extra egg to recipes where you can (i.e. french toast, sauces, etc)
  • Add cheese where you can.
  • Remember to buy full-fat wherever possible (i.e. yogurt, cottage cheese). SO easy to grab low-fat/skim when you're on autopilot at the store!  
  • Sneak meat in - ground beef/ham/chicken - into recipes where you can
My notes: most times I do go to the extra work to make her "full-fat" food separate from ours - only because I don't need to go up another jean size, ugh. Other times I make a normal recipe and then add the extra butter/oil to her dish only. So many of these are dairy related - obvious what I should be giving up if I want to lose weight ;)

Food ideas aka think of the most fattening foods you normally avoid that you'd like to eat:
  • Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!
  • Pasta! (fettuccine alfredo, macaroni-n-cheese, etc)
  • Mashed potatoes made with whipping cream, sour cream, cream cheese and butter. BAM! Fatty delight and my idea of heaven.
  • Peanut butter on toast (Allie is allergic, so this one doesn't work for us. Bummer)
  • Berries with whipping cream poured over them
  • Make smoothies (using all the good fat stuff - full fat yogurt, cream, fruit, etc)
  • Sliced avocado (Allie is not a fan)
  • Cottage cheese with fruit mixed in
  • Give them things to dip food in - hummus and pita bread, fruit into yogurt, apples into peanut butter, crackers in a cheese dip, etc. (Allie's not old enough to dip on her own yet)
  • Milkshakes (they told us not to be worried about sugar when you are desperate to get calories in them. Unfortunately Allie doesn't like these either. How is she my child?! ;) ha ha)
  • Banana or pumpkin bread slathered with butter
  • Serve vegetables slathered in butter and/or with grated cheese
  • Pizza! Cheesy bread! Rolls slathered with jam and butter! (Carbs with fat = yum)
  • Sweet potatoes with loads of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar
  • Eggs - boiled, scrambled, fried, egg salad. Great source of protein!
  • Yogurt drinks for the non-milk drinkers*

Best high-calorie foods we have found that Allie likes best: (note a few things: we offer other food other than these, including just plain healthy food without "fatty add on's", these are just the ones we have found she liked the most. But even liking these the most, she still doesn't eat many bites of them - a good day is when she eats an entire ravioli at dinner. Then there's my friend who's 1 year old eats 6 raviolis. SIGH. So frustrating.)
  • Baby oatmeal made with whipping cream and baby food mixed in (berry and sweet potatoes are her favorite)
  • Scrambled eggs made with cream, lots of butter, and a little bit of grated cheese
  • Pasta tossed with butter, olive oil, pepper & salt & basil
  • Homemade macaroni-n-cheese using 100% cream, tons of cheese and butter
  • Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo knock-off recipe
  • Box macaroni (we like Annie's white cheddar) made with whipping cream, double butter and a little bit of cream cheese added
  • Mozzarella & spinach ravioli's that Costco sells, slathered with olive oil. This is the food she is most excited about.  
  • Papa Murphy's cheesy bread - she loves this stuff! So do I, thus why my pants are tight lately ;)
  • Raspberries served in cream
  • Peas slathered in butter with salt and pepper
  • Pita bread warmed with butter on it (the one they sell at Costco is sooo good!)
  • Colby cheese cut into thin slices
  • Yogurt
  • Cheesy rice casserole, baked spaghetti, etc. I add extra butter/oil of course
  • Gerber Graduates "Grabbers" Fruit & Yogurt - these are the highest calorie food pouches we could find and she loves them! They are our go-to food on bad eating days.

  • Smoothies and yogurt drinks*
*Allie hates whole milk and formula and only wants breast milk straight from the source - not from a bottle or cup, part of our feeding problem. Ugh. I've heard from other people they had luck getting their child to drink milk by starting with chocolate or strawberry milk, pediasure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, almond milk, etc. but none of that worked for her. We use organic milk cause I can't stand the taste of non-organic personally but that didn't help either. We've had slightly better success with yogurt drinks but still not great. She loves water and juice (we do watered down juice/100% juice only cause it can fill her up and its empty calories)

Eating spaghetti! Yum!

 My tips:
  • Offer different cheeses 'til you find what works - Allie went crazy for colby cheese way more than straight cheddar. She is not a huge meat eater and we worry about protein intake, cheese and eggs are our favorite go-to for that.
  • On "bad" eating days where she doesn't want to eat, sometimes I'll offer her favorite food - mandarin oranges - sometimes it will get her appetite kick started.
  • Sometimes she signs "all done" but then after I offer a drink she will eat a few more bites
  • We always accept/eat food she offers - even if you don't like it, don't want the calories, etc, make sure to eat it. We noticed she will eat more after she feeds mom/dad. (Kevin hates banana's, so I peversely love to watch her feed him those. bwwa ha ha ha, enjoy it honey!)
  • Offer drinks in a novelty cup. She will drink more smoothie from a straw than a sippy. It's more fun?
  • Try not to let them sense your stress. They can't enjoy their food when you're watching them like a hawk, so I try to eat alongside and not make a big deal about whether she's eating well or not. Easier said than done I know. Especially when she starts throwing all the food on the ground. grrrrrr.
  • We noticed she was really squirmy in her high chair so we switched high chairs and got her this one instead - The Fisher Price Deluxe Booster Chair. The tray hits her in a lower spot and she seems way more comfortable in it than it the giant padded one we had. This one's a fraction of the cost too, its on my list of baby recommendations to all my friends. And way easy to clean!
  • Sometimes she will eat more if we play picnic on the ground and I let her eat in my lap.
 Anyone else struggling with getting their toddler to eat? Have any great tips?

PS - Man, I wish I had a dollar for every time I wrote "butter" on this post!

*Remember, I'm not a specialist or doctor in anyway nor do I work for Seattle Children's Hospital. I'm just a mom sharing tips of what's worked for my child. If you are concerned about your child, see your pediatrician.*


  1. Yes! This is the best lost I've found so far. Hope things are getting better.

  2. Thank you! My son is super picky and I have felt lost as to how to get him to eat. I have people "jokingly" asking if I starve him.... it's not funny to me at all especially when I try so hard to feed him and he shows no interest. Recently I've been just dishing myself extra on my plate and because it's mine and not his, he wants it. But I love your tips... I'll have to try that out and see how he does!

    1. Good idea to put it on your plate - the novelty of eating mom's food!

      Ugh, people's comments - however innocent or funny they intend - can be super annoying or maddening sometimes. Especially when it’s something you’re desperately trying to fix and you feel pretty helpless about. We've had the full range of comments from "she looks fine" (thanks, glad your expert eye can determine that. Way to completely invalidate the situation we’re in) to people being really concerned thinking we're like not aware or doing anything to help the situation. I just try and remember that a lot of is either (1) ignorance (2) genuine concern masked as humor or awkwardness (3) they don’t understand the full situation (4) some people speak without thinking ;)

      I have more patience for the comments coming from a place of concern (I explain the situation in a nutshell “we’re very aware of it and are taking extra steps to get added calories in….yada yada”) and the other comments I just bite my tongue and restrain my mama bear from wanting to come raging out. ;)

      Hope some of these tips works. Just remember every calorie counts – if you can sneak in an extra 10 here and there, it will add up over the course of a day! You’re doing a good job just for even looking for solution. Best of luck to you!

  3. Thank you so much for this. I feel inspired to keep trying, and you have given me so many great ideas. My 4 year old is very small!! And good luck to you!

  4. Thanks - so glad I can help and nice to hear other people are struggling too (I feel like the only person I know who's kid is so tiny and so picky and like its something I'm doing wrong sometimes). Its so easy to get frustrated, isn't it? Hang in there and good luck!!

  5. Thank you for this list! Our 15 month old had her appointment today and has been 20 lbs even (10% on the chart) for a few months now. Doctor wants us to give her more fatty foods to help her gain weight. I will have to try the cream in meals because whole milk causes her to be constipated if she drinks it--so she's on what we drink, which is 2%. This list is definitely going to be a HUGE help in helping me aid her in her dietary needs. She's a snacker/grazer when it comes to eating and is super picky, so I'm hoping some of these will be foods that she really likes.

    1. You're welcome hope it helps! Oh constipation can be so rough, being a little dehydrated can cause it too. Yogurt pouches - we've now found whole milk yogurt by Stonyfield - really help Allie with that.

      Another thing you can ask your doc about is what your child's height to weight ratio is and if its on a curve. Sometimes kids are just really petite!

      Good luck!