Underweight Child – Causes, Symptoms and Meal Plan

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Underweight Child - Causes, Symptoms and Meal Plan

If your child is underweight, then obviously you will be worried. There are many different reasons why a child may be underweight and it does not mean that he can’t ever put on weight. Try to understand why a child may be underweight and find out how you can help him put on weight.

Reasons Why Your Child May Be Underweight

There is a difference between your child being slim and being underweight, so it is best to speak to a doctor who will help you decide. Mentioned below are the causes of why a child may not be gaining weight.

1. Genetics

Genetics play an important role in a child’s weight. If both parents are thin, then there are chances that the child will be thin too. This shows that the child has inherited this characteristic from his parents, and hence, the doctor may not prescribe a specific treatment. However, he may recommend consulting with experts before he confirms that only genetics are responsible for the low weight of the child.

2. Digestive Diseases

Digestive conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, can make children underweight. Your child may refuse to eat if he experiences bowel pain or heartburn. Symptoms like frequent vomiting or diarrhoea will need to be investigated further.

3. Thyroid-related Diseases

If your child has an overactive thyroid, he could suffer from hyperthyroidism which can cause him to lose weight. Being irritable and nervous can be common signs of this disease and he will need a detailed blood test to confirm that he is underweight because of hyperthyroidism.

4. Eating Disorders

In recent times, eating disorders in children have become quite common. When a child is affected by such a disorder, he may vomit after a meal, diet excessively, or reduce food consumption to an unhealthy minimum. Such a child will have to be referred to a child psychologist to investigate further.

Thin child

Signs and Symptoms That Your Kid is Underweight

These are the signs and symptoms that show your child may be underweight:

  • Bone or joint pain
  • Weight loss
  • Low body fat and muscle mass
  • Insufficient growth
  • Mood swings, anxiety, learning issues or loss of clarity
  • Delicate bone structure

How Will a Doctor Determine If Your Child is Underweight?

Your child’s paediatrician will consider various factors before concluding that he is underweight. These will include an evaluation of your child’s eating habits, his overall health, weight and body structure, medical problems and how long he has been underweight. He will ask you about your child’s diet, so any deficiencies noticed can be taken care of. He will also calculate the child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) which is a better indicator than simple body weight measurement. If the BMI shows below the 5th percentile, your child will be considered underweight.

Paediatrician treating child

Remedies to Help Your Child Gain Weight

If your child is underweight, but not because of any medical condition, then you can help him gain weight by these remedies. These easy-to-follow remedies will help him gain weight:

  1. Make sure that his diet contains foods high in calories. Include foods like nuts, vegetable oils and avocados in his diet. These sources of fat are good for the heart and are a good source of calories.
  2. Make meal times a ritual your little one will look forward to. Spend time with him planning and shopping for the food, taking his inputs to keep him involved. This will encourage his involvement and interest in food and eating. Ask him to select fruits and vegetables when you are shopping for groceries.
    Involve children in the cooking process
  3. In an effort to help their children increase weight, parents feed them junk food. This can lead to bad eating habits which will remain with them all their lives. Rely on healthy food items to help your child to increase weight as it will promote overall good health.
  4. Give your child small but frequent snacks in between the main meals to reach a certain weight goal. Limit juices and milk to one or two cups a day; too many beverages a day, too close to mealtime may fill him up easily, ruining his appetite. Include whole milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, nuts and mashed potatoes to his diet to push your kids’ weight up.

Healthy Diet Plan for Underweight Children

Underweight children need a strict diet to stay nourished and gain some weight. Here are some tips and meal plans that can help along the way.

Tips to Feed an Underweight Child

Here are some tips that will help you feed your underweight child.

  • Ensure three full meals and two snacks per day are consumed by your child.
  • Provide a handful of nuts and some cheese when he feels hungry.
  • Give him milkshakes and smoothies; you can add fresh fruit and nuts to keep them healthy.
  • Promote outdoor exercises like swimming and cycling to stimulate his appetite.

Sample Meal Plan

Follow this sample meal plan to help your child gain weight. Find below a list of foods that you can include in his breakfast, lunch, evening, and dinner. These foods will help him gain weight:

  • Breakfast: Warm milk, one apple, vegetable egg omelette with whole grain bread slices along with spinach, tomato and onion.
  • Mid-Day Snack: Fruit salad with cream or flavoured low-fat yoghurt.
  • Lunch: Chicken, stir-fried vegetables, lassi or buttermilk.
  • Evening: Fresh fruit juice, a handful of almonds, mushroom cutlets.
  • Dinner: Dal, paneer or mixed vegetable curry, multigrain phulkas, or chapatis.

Along with the above-mentioned foods, you can give him a glass of warm, low-fat milk at the end of the day.

Underweight child

What If Your Child Doesn’t Start Gaining Weight?

If you have an underweight toddler and despite all your efforts, if your child is still not gaining weight, speak to a doctor. He will check for any other physical and mental conditions which may be the cause for it. He may also refer your child to a child nutritionist to check this condition in detail. Speak to your child if he continues to refuse to eat food as there could be a psychological reason behind it.

Addressing the problems associated with underweight children is not an easy task as you will need to be patient and focus. Work out a detailed and interesting meal and snack plan for the day and stick to it. Do not make him stand on the weighing machine every day as this could prove to be a worrying factor for the child. Make exercise a part of your child’s daily routine and you will soon notice small but positive changes in his weight.

Also Read: Malnutrition In Kids