Best Weight Gaining Foods
For mothers whose babies are born prematurely (<37 weeks gestation) or with low birth weight (<2.5 kg) it can be frustrating to watch their babies not being able to gain weight as expected. There could be other reasons too why the baby is underweight or showing poor weight gain like genetics (where both the parents are themselves petite or underweight), poor food choices, infection or other metabolic reasons. Once the pediatrician has diagnosed the underlining cause and taken adequate measures to address it the second line of treatment would involve providing foods that promote healthy weight gain.
A balanced diet with energy and protein-dense foods coupled with foods that provide vitamins and minerals (read fruits and vegetables) will help the baby gain a healthy weight.
Since the baby’s stomach is small it cannot eat large amounts of food at a time and so small frequent feeds are preferred. In addition to 2-3 meals, the baby needs to be given 2-3 snacks in a day.
Here are the best weights gaining foods that can be given to babies:
- Breastmilk: For the first 6 months of life breast milk is the best and the sole source of nutrition for the baby. After that breastfeeding should continue for as long as possible preferably till the child is two years old. A common error most new mothers do is that they feed simultaneously from both the breasts during each feeding session. The foremilk is lower in fat while the hindmilk is higher in fat. It is therefore imperative that babies be feed on one breast until it is ‘empty’ and then be switched to the other breast. By doing this the baby gets the hindmilk which is higher in fat and promotes healthy weight gain.
- Protein Rich Foods: It is healthy muscle gain also that needs to be promoted by providing protein-rich foods. What are some of the protein-rich foods you may ask? Foods that are from animal sources are high in protein. e.g. milk and milk products like paneer, cheese, yogurt. Cubes of paneer, cheese make excellent finger foods for toddlers. However, please note that cow’s milk should not be given in the first year of life. In addition, meat, fish, chicken as well as eggs are also good sources of protein and also provide energy. Shredded chicken, deboned fish, minced meat can be given to babies. The yolk of eggs can be given in the first year and after that, the whole egg (yolk + white) can be given. For vegetarians, peas, dals, and pulses like mung, tur, Masur, chana can be given. While giving pulses such as mung, matki, chana, chawli these should be mashed to prevent choking. A cereal pulse combination will improve the protein quality as well as quantity of a dish. e.g. khichadi, idli, dosa. Nuts and oilseeds like powdered groundnuts, cashew, till/sesame seeds can be added to the porridge or khichadi to improve the energy density.
- Roots and Tubers: Potato, sweet potato, tapioca, carrot, and beetroot are high in starch and can be given to the baby. Boiled potato, sweet potato can be mixed with a blob of butter and given to the babies. Sticks of boiled (not raw as they can be a choking hazard) carrot, beetroot can make excellent figure foods for babies and toddlers. A spoonful of these boiled roots and tubers can be added to khichadi, porridges too.
- High-Calorie Fruits: Banana, chickoo or sapota and mango are some of the high-calorie fruits that can be given as snacks between meals. In addition, they can also be mashed and added to porridges to naturally sweeten them thus eliminating the need to add sugar. Dry fruits like raisins, apricots can also be ground and added to the dish to increase energy density.
- Oils and Fats: Did you know that one gram of fat gives 9 kcals? So, buy adding one teaspoon to a dish you are increasing its energy density by 45 calories. Add a spoonful of butter, cream/malai, ghee to khichadi, porridges or mashed vegetables. Avocado also contains good fats and can be added to milkshakes, smoothies or porridges.
Many mothers in their zeal and enthusiasm may resort to adding sugar to their baby’s meals but this is not healthy as it leads to sugar craving in babies and causes dental caries as well as paves the way for non- communicable diseases like obesity, diabetes in the future. Junk foods like chips, soft drinks, cakes, cookies, and biscuits provide only calories without the goodness of vitamins or minerals and are best avoided.
One of the other points to be kept in mind is to curtail giving juices, soups and watery dals as these may not provide enough calories but will ‘fill the stomach up’. Energy density is the keyword here which means that porridges and khichadis should be thick and not watery or runny.
A word of caution: In your enthusiasm for wanting the baby to gain weigh do not resort to force feeding the baby. As long as the baby is active, sleeps well and continues growing at a steady pace on the growth curve you should be happy.