A skinny kid is just as much a worry to parents as an overweight one. Amazingly, in a world of obesity, I have more small and underweight children coming to my clinic than overweight kids!
What’s going on with them?
In many cases, the skinny kids are the ones who have had ongoing gut issues including severe reflux and sore tummies. Many of them have poor appetites or are extremely fussy and only eat a handful of different foods. Some actually eat a lot, but still remain small and slight. This is often due to food allergies, gut inflammation or malabsorption of nutrients. In my clinic we can investigate the underlying causes of a reluctance to eat or failure to put on weight, as there are also often physical reasons for it. Here are some of the common nutrients that skinny kids tend to be low in:
- Zinc – One of the most important minerals in children’s growth. Zinc helps us make all our digestive juices, which help us to extract the all the goodness from the food we eat. It can also slow up childhood diarrhoea. When a child is low in zinc they tend to be a picky eater with a poor sense of taste and smell, and get full up really easily. Our bodies aren’t good at storing zinc, so we need to ensure our kids are eating enough zinc-rich foods. These include dark meats, seafood, pulses, nuts, dairy, squashes such as pumpkin, and sesame seeds.
- Iron – Another critical mineral for growing kids is iron. Iron deficiency is a common problem we see in clinic and when a child has low iron stores they can get sore tummies, feel sick and are often tire easily. Iron helps transport oxygen from the lungs to the brain and also helps muscles store and use oxygen, so it’s important for growth and development. Iron-rich foods include beef, pork, poultry, seafood, tofu, kidney beans, black beans, peas, dried fruits and leafy dark green veggies. Remember, to include foods rich in vitamin C alongside these, such as kiwi fruit, red peppers, and parsley, to help the body absorb iron.
- Iodine – Without enough iodine our metabolism slows up and this can affect thyroid function. A slow thyroid can affect a child’s growth and also hinder their brain development, so this is super important for a growing child. Foods rich in iodine include seaweed, fish, eggs and dairy products as well as some plant-based fortified “milks”. Dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be and little ones particularly need to ensure they are consuming iodine regularly.
Ensure meal times are calm and stress-free. Set the scene with familiar calming sounds and smells. You can consider reading a story, perhaps even rewarding mouthfuls with another line or page of the story. Even a favourite TV show can help, especially if you are able to turn it off when they stop eating (!!!)
2. Supersize it
Give them a bigger plate. The same amount of food on a larger plate looks less daunting. But you can also fill it with extra food. Step up to an adult size fork or spoon, so each mouthful is bigger.
3. Hide goodness in drinks
Try to include a glass of 100% fruit juice, smoothie or full-fat milk with every meal instead of water. Too much water just before a meal can temporarily fill them up, so be careful. If dairy is not well-tolerated then use almond milk, hemp milk, or coconut milk instead.
4. Add healthy fats
Add healthy fats from nuts and seeds to your child’s diet. If whole nuts are not digested very well or your child finds it difficult to chew or swallow nuts then grind them up in a food processor or buy ground almonds and blend into smoothies or thickies, or stir into porridge, cereal etc. Ground almonds are a delicious and nutritious addition to pancakes, biscuits and cakes. Nut butters, yoghurts and cream are filling and creamy, and can supercharge their calorie intake.
5. Use finer foods
Small grains like couscous or quinoa and angel hair pasta have less air in between, so you are going to get more of it on their plates without it looking like a lot.
6. Choose dark meats
Serve dark meat poultry instead of white. The dark meat has more fat and more iron.
7. Rely on oily fish
Give omega 3-rich oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel instead of white fish. This food is fab on so many levels.
8. Use fat to cook
Sauté and cook vegetables in things like olive oil, butter, ghee, goose fat, duck fat, lard, coconut oil, or coconut butter. Even with steamed vegetables, you can add butter at the end.
9. Prefer higher calorie vegetables
Starchy veggies such as sweet potatoes or butternut squash are more calorie-dense than leafy greens.
Get all this right and they’ll eat more and become more robust! Remember there can be a wide variety of reasons for fussy eating, poor appetite and sore tummies. At NatureDoc clinic, we can investigate the underlying causes of a reluctance to eat or failure to put on weight, as there are also often physical reasons for it. So contact us if you are concerned.
Updated from the originally published version of July 2015