High calorie foods for fussy eaters
Many parents of fussy eaters are concerned their child is underweight, too skinny, or not consuming enough calories. If you are worried, checking a child is tracking along their own personal growth curve is an easy way to see at a glance if there’s a major cause for concern.
When food is not something that a child is super comfortable around, then eating can become a chore or something to be avoided. Also, if a child is living on a diet which is limited in variety, frequently eating becomes less interesting.
Having less interest in eating can mean that less is eaten. Or if your child is taking medication that suppresses the appetite it can be challenging to eat enough to fuel the body.
Frequently, the advice in these cases is to increase the calorific value in the foods that are eaten. I agree, but also caution that it can backfire if we are not careful:
i) High calorie foods are generally more filling, so we can find our child wants to eat less volume.
ii) If the food is not appealing, then especially with a picky eater, we can be working against ourselves.
The more we enjoy food, the more likely we are to eat.
Similarly, if we are pressuring our child to eat more or eat certain types of food, that can often be counterproductive. The more we push, the more pushback we get.
There may also be a push to “just feed them what they’ll eat” or “get the calories in any way you can”. Friends, relatives and even many health professionals sit in this space.
Although I feel that it’s critical our child is getting enough calories to function optimally, going down the road of increasing high sugar foods or giving free reign on calorie-dense but nutrient low foods can be detrimental in the long run.
A child in the habit of eating high-sugar, maximum pleasure foods is less likely to expand their diet into the dinner foods that most fussy eaters find more challenging.
I believe though we can boost both calories and nutrients if we are prepared to actively support our child to become more comfortable around foods.
Finding a balance between increasing the calories eaten and having food be fun and relaxing is the goal.
Although this can be a challenge, I also don’t think it’s impossible. I have put together a list of food ideas that may help.
High calorie foods appealing to fussy eaters
To maximise what your child can eat, 3 small meals and 2 snacks can often help enable them to eat more without feeling over full. Short meals also counter the challenge of food being less interesting than everything else happening!
Similarly, water can fill up a small tummy easily so holding back on the amount drunk before or during a meal can be helpful.
Each child is different and so tastes are too. However, I’m including foods that in my experience working with over 100 families each year are often readily accepted foods, even by those super selective eaters with a limited diet.
1. Smoothies – drinking new things is often easier for a picky eater than eating. Smoothies can be packed with good calories from milk, yoghurt, nut butters, eggs and kefir, for example.
Finding a balance between what our child enjoys and what is high calorie is important. There’s no point having a whiz bang drink if it’s not going to get accepted.
2. Dairy – many fussy eaters love dairy. It’s both full of calories and nutrients:
i) Milk. Full fat milk is high calorie however, it can also replace food. If you have a child who loves drinking milk and prefers it to eating, it’s good to evaluate whether they are drowning their appetite. Read more here: https://theconfidenteater.com/blog/picky-eating-support/3-ways-my-picky-child-can-drown-their-appetite/
ii) Yoghurt. Yoghurt is frequently a favourite. Yoghurt can be added to smoothies, made into a frozen dessert, or eaten as is.
iii) Cheese. Cheese can be added to a variety of foods to increase the calorie count or just eaten in sticks or grated. It’s often an easy choice for fussy eaters.
iv) Sour cream. Often enjoyed by picky eaters, sour cream makes a great dip or sauce. For example, dunking crackers, carrot sticks or chippies in or adding to pasta as a sauce.
v) Cream. I’m including cream as I find that creaminess can frequently replace sugar in recipes. For example, a berry dessert/smoothie with cream doesn’t need as much sugar to cut through the bitterness.
vi) Butter. Butter can be an easy addition to cooking and can enhance the flavour of veggies or be layered onto toast or crackers.
vii) Ghee. Clarified butter is frequently used in Indian cuisine and is a high calorie option to use in cooking. I use it for high heat cooking especially. It makes awesome home-made buttery tasting popcorn!
3. Nuts & seeds. Nuts, seeds, or butters made from them are a great calorie and nutrient boost. They are also surprisingly versatile:
i) Snacks. Being dry and crunchy they are worth testing as a snack in place of crackers or pretzels, for example. Sometimes dry roasting in a little flavouring like soy sauce or garlic powder can help make them more appealing.
ii) Baking. Add to baking or if you have a child who is not comfortable eating them in their whole form they can be ground into a flour and swapped in instead of flour.
Similarly, ground nuts and seeds can be used instead of flour in popular recipes like pancakes.
iii) Butters. Many children enjoy nut butters like peanut, and these can be used in the traditional on bread/toast way or added to other recipes like smoothies or baking.
Nut butters can also be used as a dip or a sauce.
4. Dried fruit. Dried fruit like dates are chock full of calories. Many fussy eaters enjoy eating dried fruit as a snack. If not, adding to baking may be possible.
If whole pieces of dried fruit are a challenge for our child, we can soak them and blitz them to form a puree and then use in smoothies or baking.
5. Whole grains. Great nutrient boost, great for calories, but often a little tougher for picky eaters.
i) Bread. Gradually moving to a wholegrain bread can be a process and take time to build acceptance for. If you can make your own, then gradually adding tiny amounts of whole meal to flour white is a good way to do this.
ii) Baking. There are many recipes from pancakes to muffins where swapping some white flour for whole meal is possible without altering the look, the taste, or the mouthfeel.
iii) Pasta. I find many of the whole meal pastas are dense and chewy. We use a whole meal spelt and it’s soft and quite ‘white’ looking. I have personally supported many super selective eaters to eat this with pleasure.
6. Oils/sauces. Adding oils or sauces to dishes is a great way to boost calories. Sauces are also often a real challenge for picky eaters!
i) Oil on foods. Although sauces on pasta for example, can be a hard no, sometimes adding some oil is acceptable. There is little texture or visual change.
Adding oil can be done during the cooking process so that a food like chicken has slightly more oil than usual.
ii) Coconut oil. There are many recipes that call for coconut oil and using it as an ingredient in baking helps boost calories. Or again, it’s a great choice for cooking. You can get a deodorized version so the coconut flavour is not overpowering too.
iii) Sauces. Sauces can easily be high calorie. Obvious choices would be cheese or satay sauce. Often dipping in is easier than pouring over.
iv) Dressings. Mayo for example can be used as a dip, dressing or sauce. Beginning with a tiny amount and making the experience fun is usually the best way to get buy in.
7. Potatoes/sweet potatoes. If we can eat the potato skin, then that’s where many of the nutrients are, but I also appreciate that’s not always an easy sell!
i) Potatoes. Are super versatile and can be cooked to suit a child’s tastes. Everything from mash to chips.
ii) Sweet potatoes. I love these for being as versatile as potatoes:
– Sliced and toasted (like toast!)
– The orange ones can be eaten raw like carrot sticks
– In baking in substitution for flour in baking
– In baking as a flavour boost
8. Meat. If you have a meat eater, beef, chicken (especially the dark meat), liver and sausages are all calorie dense. In fact meat in general is high calorie.
If liver seems scary, you can freeze and then grate into other dishes like mince and it disappears without leaving an uncomfortable texture or taste.
9. Eggs. Eggs and especially the yolks are a great, budget friendly calorie boosting option.
i) Whole. If you have an egg-eater, then fried, poached, soft-boiled, hard boiled or as omelettes or French toast are all perfect.
ii) Baking. Eggs are a feature of much baking from muffins to cakes to pancakes.
10. Other foods. Other foods that are accepted by some picky eaters and are great options are:
i) Salmon. Or other oily fish.
ii) Avocados. Which are perfect on toast, in smoothies or made into desserts.
iii) Chickpeas. These can be roasted (so crunchy and dry), made into hummus or used in baking.
iv) Oats. Perfect in granola, porridge, muesli bars or in baking.
v) Dark chocolate. As usual, saved the best for last
If there is nothing on the lists that your child is happy eating and you would like to discuss broadening their diet, please feel free to get in contact and speak to me directly.
Please also let me know whether you find lists like these helpful. If there is anything you’d particularly like to see appear in a blog, I’m always open to suggestions!
Judith, MA Cantab, is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/