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Adding protein and calories to your child’s diet: Information for parents and caregivers

Adding Protein and Calories to Your Child’s Diet

Information for parents and caregivers

When children are not growing well, eating more calories and protein may help. Use the tips below if you need to add more calories and protein to your child’s diet.

The information below can be used on different food textures and preparations. Match the texture of foods to your child’s age and feeding skills. And watch for choking hazards like sticky foods and round, firm foods. Some foods need to be chopped, grated, or avoided, especially for children younger than 4 years old.

Offer higher calorie and protein foods at each meal and snack. To find a list of higher calorie and protein foods, download: Adding calories and protein to your child’s diet (PDF).

Adding protein and calories to meals and snacks

Create a mealtime routine and offer 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks each day.

Serve your child the same food as everyone else, but with extra calories and protein added. Add extra fat, sauces, and dips to your child’s food before you bring it to the table.

Pureed foods

These tips can also be used if your child eats other food textures.

  • Mash potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, or turnips with 3.25% (homogenized) milk and oil, or butter.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of canola or vegetable oil to ½ cup (125 mL) of pureed vegetables and fruits. You can also add oil, butter, or soft margarine to pureed meats, vegetables, and grains.
  • Use avocado in smoothies, or download Making smoothies with more calories and protein for your child (PDF) for more ideas.
  • Add nut or seed butter to hot cereals, smoothies, sauces, or soups.
  • Use cream in place of milk in recipes.
  • Add skim or whole milk powder to pureed foods, cream soups, smoothies, and puddings.

Vegetables and fruits

  • Add sour cream, cream cheese, or grated cheese to cooked vegetables.
  • Offer fruit with yogurt, cottage cheese, or pudding.
  • Offer raw vegetables with hummus, bean dip, or yogurt dip.
  • Use avocado as a spread on sandwiches or crackers, or mash it and use it as a dip.

Grain foods

  • Make pancakes, waffles, or French toast with extra eggs, oil, or skim or whole milk powder. Serve them with syrup, fruit, yogurt, or whipped cream.
  • Make hot or cold cereals with 3.25% milk or cream. Top with nut butter, fruit, and cream.
  • Serve rice or congee with bean curd, egg, or tofu.
  • Spread cream cheese, avocado, or butter on bread, muffins, and loaves.

Mixed dishes

  • Offer chicken, beef, tuna, ham, or egg casseroles and sandwiches. Serve eggs fried in oil, soft margarine, or butter, or scramble eggs with cheese.
  • Spread nut or seed butter on bread, crackers, muffins, bananas, apple slices, or celery sticks.
  • Add vegetable oil, soft margarine, or butter to cooked pasta, potatoes, rice, and vegetables.
  • Mix mayonnaise or avocado with boiled eggs, chicken, or canned fish to make a sandwich filling.
  • Add cooked peas, beans, and lentils into dips, sauces, soups, or casseroles.

Drinks

  • Offer only water between planned meals and snacks. This allows your child’s appetite to build between eating times.
  • Offer no more than 2 to 3 cups (500 to 750 mL) of milk each day. Offer milk at meal or snack times. When a child drinks too many fluids, it may make them less hungry for meals and snacks.

Food allergies or sensitivities

If your child has food allergies or sensitivities, use higher calorie and protein options that are safe for your child.

  • Use seed or soy butter in place of peanut butter.
  • Swap cow’s milk cheese with soy cheese.
  • Try vegan margarine or oil in place of butter or soft margarine.
  • Use fortified soy beverage in place of milk as a drink or in recipes. Other plant-based beverages, like those made from almond or coconut are often much lower in calories and protein.

If you have questions about the best choice for your child, ask your dietitian or healthcare team.

Find support

  • Talk to your healthcare team.
  • Call Health Link at 811 and ask to talk to a dietitian. You can also complete a self-referral form to have a dietitian call you.
  • Visit ahs.ca/nutrition to find Alberta Health Services programs and services in your area, or visit ahs.ca/nutritionhandouts for more nutrition information.

To see this information online and learn more, visit MyHealth.Alberta.ca/health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=custom.ab_diet_protein_calories_tips_child.

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For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: August 18, 2023

Author: Diabetes, Obesity, and Nutrition SCN, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.