Does Your Child Need a Weight Gaining Shake?

By Emily Hirsch, MS, RD

Emily has over 12 years experience in the field of nutrition. In her writing, she strives to bring lackluster research on health and nutrition topics to life. She loves writing about GI health and women’s issues.

Kids are notoriously picky eaters. It is not uncommon for a child to refuse to eat certain foods due to their texture, color, smell, or taste. Some kids may not eat any type of green foods, while others may unravel if one type of food touches another on their plate. Additionally, many kids may only eat a few familiar foods like crackers, yogurt, or fruit, and rarely branch out of their “food comfort zone” to try something new.

Feeding a healthy snack or meal to a child can be a daunting task for even the most confident and seasoned parent. Presenting well-balanced meals that your child ultimately refuses can also lead to frustration and stress. Furthermore, a child’s refusal to eat certain foods may lead to concerns as to whether your child is getting all the nutrients they need for optimal growth.

Not consuming enough calories can impact your child’s health in various ways. Being undernourished can lead to low energy levels, a diminished immune system, and impaired growth.

If you are concerned about your child being underweight, understanding how to help them gain weight in a healthy way is important. It may be tempting to provide foods high in fat and sugar to pack on the pounds; however, these foods only provide empty calories. Empty calories will promote weight gain but won’t provide the nutrients your child needs for their rapidly growing body.

Gaining weight in a healthy way means gradually increasing your child’s consumption of healthy, calorie-dense foods from a variety of sources. If your child has fallen off the growth curve and isn’t consuming adequate calories from a variety of foods, it may be time to consider supplementing their diet with weight gaining shakes.

How Many Calories Does My Child Need?

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to how many calories your child needs each day. Every child has varying activity levels and will burn calories at different rates. While it may not be necessary to count every calorie your child consumes, it may be helpful to have a ballpark understanding of how many calories your child should have if you’re concerned about their weight.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active boys aged 2–10 include.  

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active girls aged 2–10 include. 

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day 

When should you consider using weight gaining shakes for you kid?

From birth to age 2 your child’s growth is monitored by weight-to-length measurements. After the age of 2, your child’s growth will be assessed using the body mass index (BMI) chart.

The BMI compares a child’s weight to their height. Children who are in the bottom 5 percent for body mass index are considered underweight.

Besides relying on the BMI growth chart, there are signs that you can watch for if you are concerned that your child is underweight:

  • Your child’s weight percentile continues to trend downward.
  • Your child isn’t outgrowing their clothes each season.
  • Your child’s ribs stick out or are prominently visible.

There are a variety of reasons why a child may be underweight. One of the most common reasons is simply due to inadequate food intake.

Other children who may need help gaining weight include those with chronic medical conditions, children with food allergies, and children struggling with digestive problems.

Another common reason a child may be underweight is due to medication that interferes with their appetite. Medication, particularly those prescribed for ADHD, can impact appetite and lead to weight loss. In fact, according to research, roughly 20% of people with ADHD who were treated with stimulants reported a loss of appetite.

You should consider weight gaining shakes if your child’s eating patterns abruptly change, if they are avoiding various foods, or if you notice a decline in their weight.

Advantages of weight gaining shakes

While healthy food intake is important, weight gaining shakes also have the following advantages.

Many children are picky eaters but also may only eat a very small volume of food at one time.

Weight gaining shakes for kids can provide the right balance of nutrients to help underweight children move toward a healthier body weight. These weight gain supplements can boost your child’s calorie intake and also provide a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats to ensure proper and adequate growth.

Additionally, liquids can sometimes go down easier than solid foods and can be easily packed with weight-gaining ingredients.

Weight gain shakes can be made with whole fruit which provides enough natural sugar to sweeten the beverage, and may curb your picky eater’s cravings for high processed, sugary foods.

Since these shakes are made with only ingredients you choose, it helps your kids to avoid eating foods with questionable ingredients.

Drinking calories can also be a quicker process than actually eating them. Therefore, nutritional shakes may appeal to the busy picky eater that is looking forward to getting back to playing as quickly as possible.

When to serve shakes?

Weight gain supplements for kids are intended to be a supplement, not a meal replacement. Therefore, it’s important to give your child shakes between meals rather than with their meals.

Shakes tend to be filling, and it may not be realistic for a child to eat solid foods and drink a shake simultaneously.

Eating three solid meals of whole foods a day remains an important component of helping your child gain weight. Whole foods also provide an array of nutrients that will support your child’s healthy growth.

A Sample Meal Plan

While every child is unique, increasing intake by 100-200 extra calories a day will likely result in a steady weight gain.

A sample meal plan for a 2-year old may include: 

Breakfast

½ slice whole wheat toast (64 kcals)
1 teaspoon of almond butter (33 kcals)
¼ cup cut pears (24 kcals)
½ cup whole milk (73 kcals)

Morning Snack

5 crackers (85 kcals)
¼ banana (26 kcals)

OR

Strawberry banana weight gain shake (150 kcals)

Lunch

1 slice whole wheat bread (128 kcals)
1 slice cheddar cheese (113 kcals)
¼ cup peas (26 kcals)
Small cup applesauce (68 kcals)
½ cup whole milk (73 kcals)

Afternoon Snack

Applesauce pouch (70 kcals)

OR

Strawberry banana weight gain shake (150 kcals)

Dinner

1 oz. chicken (31 kcals)
1 teaspoon olive oil (40 kcals)
¼ cup rice (51 kcals)
½ cup cooked carrots (41 kcals)
½ cup whole milk (73 kcals)

The total calories in this meal plan without the weight gaining shakes contains roughly 1,000 calories. If you include a weight gain shake as a morning and afternoon snack, the calories in this meal plan contains 1,138 calories, which is an additional 138 calories. The addition of this weight gaining shake will help to promote healthy, steady weight gain. 

Alternative options

Making your own weight gain shakes can be simple, but does require having ingredients on hand.

As an alternative to homemade weight gain shakes, there are ready-made options on the market to choose from. These ready-made formulas generally provide plenty of protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fats along with an array of vitamins and minerals to support optimal growth.

It’s important to note that weight gain supplements that are marketed for adults are not appropriate for children. These weight gain supplements often contain too much protein and other ingredients that can potentially harm your child.

Nutrient-rich, high calorie foods (when eaten) can also serve as an alternative to weight gain shakes. These nutritious and high calorie foods may include:

  • Peanut butter and other nut butters
  • Avocados
  • Whole milk dairy products
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dried fruit

To further boost calories in an underweight child’s diet, you can also add powdered milk or Else toddler formula to different foods including yogurt, soup or oatmeal. 

Bottom Line

If you are concerned that your child may be underweight, it’s important to provide high calorie, nutrient dense food. Establishing healthy eating habits will help your child’s energy levels, immune system, and will promote healthy growth.

Healthy eating habits for kids include:

  • Avoiding grazing and snacking throughout the day. Children are much more likely to eat a well-balanced meal if they haven’t been snacking on empty calories all day.
  • Focusing on serving high-nutrient, high-calorie foods like whole milk yogurt, nuts, cheeses, Else toddler formula, and nut butters.
  • Limiting drinks at mealtimes. Drinking a lot during meals may fill your child up leaving little room for solid foods.
  • Limiting low-nutrient, energy-dense foods with empty calories like candy, chips, cookies, and sodas. Empty calories might add some weight, but they are lacking the nutrients a child needs to build a strong, healthy body.

Despite your best efforts, some children may not reach their recommended weight with solid food alone. Picky eaters or kids that don' t have much of an appetite may be willing to drink shakes that are packed with calories and nutrients to help them grow and thrive. 

5 Creative ways to serve high calorie shake to your kid

  1. If your child isn’t interested in drinking a weight gain shake from a traditional cup, try pouring it into a bowl and adding granola. This will help give the meal or snack a huge calorie boost and is a creative way to serve the shake.
  2. Involve your children in the process of making the shake. Kids will be more inclined to drink a shake that they took part in creating. Kids may also enjoy making up their own names for different shakes, adding even more to the fun.
  3. Rather than a super-sugary, high fat dessert, try making a healthy “milkshake” smoothie for kids to enjoy after dinner.
  4. A child who won’t drink milk at lunchtime may love smoothies made with yogurt or milk as a snack in between breakfast and lunch.
  5. Try thickening the texture of your shakes and create smoothie bowls. Create a fun design using fresh fruit on top of the bowl. Kids can also help and will love the opportunity to have fun with their food.

Weight Gaining Shakes for Kids

For all recipes, combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

 

Strawberry Banana Shake

 ¾ cup (6 ounces) whole milk yogurt
1 scoop Else toddler formula
½ cup strawberries
1 banana
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Sunshine Shake

1 cup orange juice
1 scoop Else toddler formula
½ cup frozen peaches
1 banana

Chocolate Banana-Nut Shake

1 cup of whole milk
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 scoop Else toddler formula
1 heaping teaspoon of peanut butter or nut butter
1/2 frozen banana
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of ice cubes

Peaches and Cream Shake

1 scoop Else toddler formula
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup (6 ounces) whole milk yogurt
1 cup diced peaches

Berry Avocado Shake

1 Avocado
1 scoop Else toddler formula
1 Cup Frozen Berries 
1 Cup whole milk
1 Tsp honey or maple syrup.

Pineapple Shake

1/4 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Peanut Buttery Shake

1/2 cup whole milk
1 scoop Else toddler formula
1 Tbsp smooth peanut butter or nut butter
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

Tropical Fruit Shake

1/2 banana
½ cup pineapple or mango
1 scoop prepared Else toddler formula
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

Blueberry and Almond Shake

1 cup blueberries
1 scoop Else toddler formula
1 to 2 Tablespoons of almond butter
1 cup whole milk yogurt

Banana Weight Gain Shake

1 banana
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 to 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter
1 scoop Else toddler formula
1 to 2 teaspoons of chia seeds

Alternatives to cow’s milk

For children that are lactose intolerant, or for those with a milk protein allergy, there are plenty of alternative dairy options which include:

  • Soy milk
  • Rice milk
  • Nut milk (almond or cashew)
  • Coconut milk
  • Oat milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Dairy free yogurts made with soy, almonds, or coconut

Adding calories to shakes

If your child is in need of extra calories, you can add the following to their weight gain shakes:

Adding sweetness to nutritional shakes

Some kids prefer a sweeter shake. Consider sweetening a weight gain shake with the following ingredients:

  • Honey
  • Fruit preserves
  • Fruit juice or fruit juice concentrates

Don’t be afraid to get creative. It may take a few tries before you find a shake your child loves. But once you do, you can continue to offer it regularly in addition to balanced meals to help your child achieve a healthy weight. 

 

The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.


Older Post Newer Post