Underweight and skinny kids

skinny or underweight kids?

While much of the health media focus is on overweight children, sometimes parents find themselves with the opposite problem, underweight children or a mixed tribe of overweight and underweight kids.

Are you worried that your child is too skinny?

Before you worry too much, consider these points ...

    • maybe your child is actually a healthy weight but you can’t see it because the rest of the family tends to carry a little extra weight
    • perhaps some of the other kids in the school photo are actually a little over-fat and that makes your child look underweight, or perhaps your children’s slimness is part of their genetic make-up and there will be catch-up growth later?

    • Check the kid's BMI at this free calculator to see if it is rated as underweight. If your child's growth (height or weight) has fallen or stalled, chat with your local doctor.

how to increase an underweight child's nutrition

Provided the medical doctor has told you there is no underlying medical problem or cause for your child being underweight, you could apply the following tips to increase the child’s health and nutrition.

1. Feed and fuel your child at least six times a day.

    • Make sure you keep an eye on the clock and call your child in and away from playtime to offer some food and drink.
    • If you personally skip meals, chances are that you may forget that your child needs to eat regularly and on time.
    • Be organised and take food for your child if it's likely that you will be out at a meal or snack time. Be ready to respond to their hunger.

2. Just because they’re skinny, doesn’t mean nutrition is not important.

    • Don’t fall into the trap of always serving ‘junk foods’ like lollies, chips, biscuits, soft drinks, cordials, fast foods, and chocolate.
    • Growing children need vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients, as well as energy-providing food.

3. Get the foundation solid with great quality food.

    • You will always be confident that your child is getting enough vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre even if they are not ‘filling out’.
    • It’s surprising how little food and variety your child needs to reach essential protein, vitamins and mineral requirements.
    • Once the foundation food quantities are met, offer any other foods and drinks your child wants to fill them up and out, without guilt and anxiety.
    • Let the child's natural appetite guide how much they eat. Just be prepared to have food and drink available when the hunger call comes.

4. Keep your child focused on the task of eating.

    • If your child loses focus and is easily distracted away from food, turn off the TV, computer and put games aside around feeding time.

5. Set some ground rules at meal times such as "everyone stays at the table until dad and mum are finished" even if your child doesn’t want to eat what you’ve served.

    • Don’t force or nag them to eat. You’re just asking them to stay at the table. You don’t want to turn meal times into an argument or stressful event.
    • Why keep the kids at the table? Apart from being a social time, they will see mum and dad enjoying meals together (role modelling). Plus the kids may end up picking at food because they are sitting with it in front of them. This is useful if your child wants to rush off and play rather than eat.

6. Trick their little eyes.

    • Serve their usual small meal onto an adult plate so it looks really small. Serve their drinks into big glasses but only partway fill them. If it doesn’t look like a lot, they may tackle it and finish it off!
    • But surprisingly, the reverse can sometimes work as well. If you serve a child much more than they need, there is a chance they will actually eat more.
    • Which approach you end up taking depends on your child. You will soon see for yourself by testing the large plate-ordinary serve versus large over-filled plate. If they complain the meal looks too big, then use the empty-looking big plate and half-filled big glasses trick. If they tend to play with their meal, then try an over-filled larger plate.

7. Make it easy for your child to eat.

    • That may mean peeling and cutting up their fruit, serving family favourites such as mince and mash that don’t have to be chewed much or offering foods that can be eaten with fingers rather than a knife and fork, such as filled taco wraps/shells and frittata with salad.

8. Serve milk drinks rather than water or cordial with meals and snacks.

    • Milk is a powerhouse of protein, riboflavin, and energy.

9. Choose and serve foods that are energy and nutrient rich.

    • Make some simple switches to double up their energy intake without making them eat more.
    • See the table below for some swift simple switches.

10. Bump up the nourishing fats.

    • Add olive oil dressing to their salad.
    • Spread the avocado/butter/margarine generously on their sandwich.
    • Roast vegetables in safflower or sunflower seed oil rather than on a rack.
    • Buy fruity yoghurts, regular custard and full cream milk rather than reduced fat/no-fat milk.
    • Just because you avoid fats, doesn’t mean your child ought to eat fat-free meals and foods.

11. Serve milky desserts after the main meal.

    • Custard and yoghurt served with fruity crumble or a creamy rice pudding with sultana spots are some ideas.

12. Add some ‘boosters’ to top up the energy intake even further.

    • Boosters sneak nutrition and extra energy in.
    • Add skim milk powder to their milk whether it’s to drink or pour on cereal. Throw in some flavour as well if you like.
    • Pack cheese sticks, dried fruit, nuts and crackers to eat in the car. Be ready to respond quickly to your child's calls of hunger and need to ‘top up’.
    • Add ground almond meal to breakfast cereals, milk drinks, mashed vegetables, and pasta sauce.
    • Stir a beaten egg into soups and hot noodles.

13. Watch your language and conversation around body size and shapes.

    • Most women’s and men's magazines feature a celebrity’s diet or toned body shape or latest diet on the cover or inside. If you follow thinspirations and weight loss models, your child will see these.
    • If you also talk about people being fat, on a diet, over-eating, or you are watching your own weight by counting calories or you obsess over food labels and your own body shape, your child picks up on this quickly.
    • Your child may have overheard a whisper about someone else being overweight and misheard the conversation to mean ' I am fat'.
    • Children mirror a parent’s pattern and chatter. Catch yourself out and avoid this kind of body shape and body size chatter, especially if your child has suddenly started eating less and is starting to lose weight. They may have started dieting because of this unhealthy conversation.


Easily double the energy intake of your child without making larger serves with some simple healthy switches*.

Instead of this:

Offer this:

1/2 cup diced watermelon

1 lady finger banana or a tablespoon of sultanas or 1 dried peach half

1 wrap bread

1 small bread roll

1/2 cup popcorn

1 snack-sized tub of yoghurt (100g)

4-5 jube lollies

4-5 macadamia nuts

4-5 strawberries

1 mandarin or 4 lychees

Vegemite on toast

Avocado, peanut butter or cheese on toast

Mashed pumpkin

Mashed orange sweet potato

3-4 tbs crispy breakfast cereal (even the kids’ sugar flavoured ones)

2 tbs muesli (toasted or untoasted)

A chocolate frog

2 pikelets with spread

A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement doesn’t add the energy fuel (kJ and cals) that your child needs to fill out.

Only add a supplement if your child doesn’t even eat enough of the essential foundation foods.

* For more healthy ideas that jump out at you because you really see them, read my book "this=that child size this: a life-size photo guide to kids’ food serves". It contains more than 340 life-size photos of different types of food with serving suggestions, in each of seven food categories. It suits kids of all sizes and shapes from ages 4 up to 13 years.

Now Only

this=that child size "seconds or better"