I’m sure this is the opposite topic than you mostly see – the word out on the street is usually reduce-reduce-reduce. But today I’m flipping the script and sharing how to increase calories in a healthy way!
As far as growth percentages, my kids have never been very high up on the charts. They’re usually percentage wise between 6-30% percentile, and that’s cool. They usually follow their growth curve (which is what’s important!) and just seem to be on the smaller side more often than not. That’s just their God given size and not something I work to change. I never try to get them higher on the charts, but I do try to keep them well fed. 100% for me. Hangry kids are not fun kids!
It’s funny how being hungry affects kids differently. One kiddo gets more angry (hello hangry!), while another gets winy. It’s kinda funny the kid drama that comes with hunger. But then kinda not funny when everyone is crying at 2pm and I’m like, JUST EAT A FREAKING BANANA.
I try my darn hardest to not force my kids to finish meals or force bites, but sometimes I know if they don’t eat enough they’re just going to be hungry 30 minutes later which can backfire on ME! So instead of forcing bites, I try to make sure the calories they get in with the foods I offer gives them enough fuel. That means focusing on increasing calories with some strategies that work well in our house hold.
Maybe you’re looking to keep the hangries away like me, or to help your kiddo grow more on that growth chart. Whatever the goal may be, these are my best ways to increase calories consumption in a healthy way. [read: no junk food!]
Why would you want to increase calories for your kids (or yourself!)?
Kids need lots of energy throughout the day and just like adult, children’s metabolisms run at different rates. If you have a high metabolism kid, and you feel like it’s hard to get enough food into them, there are healthy ways to increase their overall calorie consumption. These same tips work for adults, too!
How to increase calories in a healthy way
I fully believe in eating a balanced diet filled with all 3 macronutrient – carbohydrates, fat and protein. Vegetables and/or fruits should be a part of every meal and food should taste good! There are times for sweets and treats, but in every day meals, the focus should be on nourishment to ensure kid’s bodies get the right amount of food, while getting all the vitamins and minerals, fiber and energy they need.
Looking at the 3 macronutrient groups, fat holds the highest caloric load at 9 calories per gram (whereas carbohydrates and protein hold 4 calories per gram). If we’re looking to increase calories in our kid’s diet, look first to fat consumption.
Ask yourself, are they eating fat free or low fat labeled foods? What kinds of fats are they consuming regularly?
Aim to avoid ALL trans fats – labeled often as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils – and instead include natural fats. Natural fats would be those that come with meat (think chicken thighs over chicken breast or fish like salmon), fat in dairy, avocados, nuts and seeds. Fats help our bodies to absorb fat soluble vitamins.
[check out 10 of my favorite fats!]
After fat, look to carbohydrates. Ensure kids are offered great sources that are full of fiber, as opposed to the white varieties – white sugar, white flour – which have been stripped of all their natural goodness. When creating balanced meals and snacks, include 1-2 carbohydrate sources, which could be a whole grain bread, roasted sweet potatoes, bananas, fruits, cooked whole grains, starchy vegetables, etc. Carbohydrates help to give kids energy to move and play, and if you have a high energy kid, they may need more of this.
Offer protein at every meal, as protein is the building block for their bodies. We need protein to repair and grow, and kids are doing a ton of growing! Make sure to include protein in every meal/snack, which can be as simple as an egg, meat, yogurt, cheese, other dairy products, nuts, seeds, higher protein grains (like quinoa) and beans.
20 practical ways to increase calories in a healthy way
- Choose cuts of meat that have more fat in them (try this green curry coconut basil chicken recipe!)
- Add butter or olive oil plus sea salt to steamed vegetables – it will not only add flavor but help vitamins to be absorbed better
- Add a piece of fruit to every meal
- Pick salmon over a white fish – bonus you get omega 3 fatty acids! (try this almond flour crusted salmon recipe)
- Use full fat canned coconut milk in smoothies instead of water in smoothies (try this peanut butter banana spinach smoothie recipe)
- Offer up snack balls as a treat instead of baked goods – they get energy from the dates and staying power from the nuts (try this chocolate peanut butter snack ball recipe!)
- Amp up their oatmeal by adding coconut oil to it and a nut butter (try this balanced banana custard oatmeal bowl)
- Use whole eggs instead of egg whites
- Sprinkle nuts and seeds onto salad
- Make popsicles more filling by using full fat coconut milk and nut butter (try this prune and almond butter popsicle!)
- Choose granola over cereal (try this maple coconut peanut crunch granola recipe!)
- Offer more balanced treats instead of sugar filled treats (like this peanut butter coconut oatmeal no bake bar!)
- Go heavy on the peanut butter on a PB&J sandwich (or any nut butter)
- Make healthier food swaps with foods they can’t get enough of – an example instead of frozen bagel bites, try a homemade pizza puff
- Add an extra layer of lunch meat in a sandwich
- Add shredded cheese as a topper for soup
- Let them pick their favorite fruit to eat every day, in addition to other choices you offer
- Offer mashed avocado or guacamole as a dip
- Add butter, cream or cream cheese (organic if possible!) to mashed potatoes or cauliflower
- Let smoothies fill in the gaps – they’re easy to drink and you can make them way more filling with full fat milks, nut butters and starchy fruits like banana (try this chocolate cherry spinach smoothie)
One last thing to note. If you offer balanced plates and allow kids to choose what they need, their bodies are smart and they will typically find balance throughout their day. Continue to offer real foods that aren’t hyper palatable like overly processed foods. Keep added sugars to a minimum to give their taste buds a chance to adjust to eating nature made foods.
Try not to force food on them, but encourage kids to try different foods and see how they like them. And stay the course! Consistently helps with any food adjustments in kids and adults.
I hope this post was helpful for you! Do you have any favorite foods or tips that have helped you increase the calorie consumption of your kiddos or self?