Growing children need a lot of energy for everyday activities and to maintain a healthy weight. There can be a number of reasons if your child is not gaining weight adequately.
- Dietary deficiencies (most common)
- Worm Infestation (very common in Pakistan)
- Lack of sleep
- Over exertion
- Some medical conditions
A Healthy, Balanced Diet for Children
If your child is underweight, he/she may not be getting enough calories to fulfil his/her daily requirements. Children need nutrients from a variety of food sources in a balanced way. Sometimes we try to fill underweight children with high calorie foods such as sweets, bakery items or fried fatty foods. This can give children a couple of pounds in a short time, but that’s not a healthy approach and can cause health issues in the long run. It is important that your child gains weight by eating a balanced, healthy diet.
The diet plan for children over 5 years of age is the same as that for adults. The calorie requirements vary according to the age, weight and physical activity. Children should have three home cooked healthy meals in a day with healthy snacks in between the meals.
A balanced diet includes:
- Carbohydrates; such as chapatti, pasta, rice, potatoes and oats which should form the basis of every meal. 6-11 portions daily.
- Proteins; such as lean meat, fish, pulses, beans and eggs etc. 2-4 portions daily.
- Vegetables and fruits. At least 5 portions daily .
- Dairy products; such as milk, cheese, yogurt. 3 portions daily.
- Limited amount of healthy fats. Use olive oil, canola oil, seed oils.
- Intake of saturated fats should be checked (found in ghee, butter, biscuits, cakes and pies)
- Intake of processed food should be as minimum as possible (e.g. processed meats such as sausages etc.)
- Instead of fried foods prefer grilled or baked foods.
- Fresh diluted juices or water instead of fizzy drinks
- Chocolates, sweets and cakes should be avoided as much as possible.
Learn more about the different food groups and how they form part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Meals at Home
At home, children should take healthy meals at regular fixed times. There should be time for proper breakfast, lunch and dinner when the whole family should eat together. Meals should be home cooked. A balanced diet should include foods from all food groups .Get guidance from the eat-well plate to balance your child’s meals. If one meal lacks in food from one food group the other meals of the day should make up for it, so at the end of the day your child is eating a balanced diet according to the eat-well plate.
Make mealtime a fun part of the day for children. Encourage them to eat by themselves, and reward for healthy eating. To help your child to gain weight, increase their servings of healthy carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole-wheat chapatti, oats (e.g. porridge), wholegrain pastas and potatoes.
Lunches for School
During the week, your child eats lunch at school. You can help your child make healthy choices.
- Talk to your child about the importance of a healthy and balanced diet
- Give your child homemade lunch instead of junk snacks and bakery items
- A good healthy lunch should include carbohydrates, protein, calcium and a portion of fruit and vegetables
- Sandwiches with a filling of lean meat, tuna, eggs or cheese provide carbohydrates and protein may be given.
- Paratha roll or pasta salads are tasty alternatives to sandwiches.
- A piece of cheese provides a serving of calcium.
- Cut vegetables into small pieces to make them easier to eat. Dried fruits are also healthy option.
- Don’t forget a drink. Water or fresh fruit juice is the best.
If your child isn’t consuming enough calories, you can help boost his/her daily intake by providing healthy snacks. Avoid junk and packed food snacks. Sweets and chocolates should not be used for snack as they only spoil your child’s appetite without providing any nutrition.
Younger children, in particular, need snacks between meals because their stomachs are not large enough to allow them to consume all the calories they need in three meals.
Great snack ideas include:
- Nuts, fruits, vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers etc.
- Small sandwiches with a protein filling, such as egg, meat, or cheese
- Yogurt, which contains proteins and calcium
- Milk, shakes, smoothies
- Breakfast cereal with milk
Daily Physical Activity
Even if your child is underweight, it’s still important that they’re physically active.
Physical activity helps them develop strong, healthy bones and muscles which is important for their growth.
Children over 5 years should do a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. If your child is underweight, the intensity of activity should be mild. Over exertion should be avoided.
Snacks should be given before and after the activity. Bananas, figs and dates are a great snack before activity. Milk with added supplements, fruit milk shakes may be given afterwards.
Avoid Junk Food
Make sure your child does not eat junk snacks or candies before the meal times. This will spoil his/her appetite and will fill him/her with junk calories. Not only that, junk food actually robs the body of important nutrients and slows down the immune system. So make sure your child is hungry for mealtime and is eating homemade nutritious meals.
Monitor Your Child's Progress
- If you provide a healthy diet using these guidelines, you would insha’Allah see an improvement in your child’s weight and growth.
- Record your child’s weight and check whether or not if it is gradually improving.
- Consult your doctor if, even after proper diet, weight gain is not adequate or the weight is constantly falling.