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Weight Problems - Underweight Children

Nutrition can be an anxious subject for many parents. As parents we can worry about a multitude of children's eating problems - is your child eating enough good food, are they overeating or are they getting all the nutrients they require?  Young children need to eat well for energy and growth and some parents are concerned that their child is not thriving and may be underweight.  

Why Toddlers & Children may be Underweight


It is not uncommon for some toddlers and children to be underweight.  There are a variety of reasons including -
  • genetic or physiological factors (naturally small or slight)
  • high energy requirements
  • exaggerated parental health concerns
  • persistent feeding problems – extreme fussy eating
  • learnt food aversions
  • lack of positive food experiences or poor child-parent interactions
  • limited attention span at mealtimes
  • too much fluid and not enough food – fluid can give the sensation of being full so reduce drinking too much fluid around mealtimes.

Tips to Help 

  • Fast Metabolism
Some children have high energy requirements or fast metabolisms. Children who are very active will need extra energy and carbohydrate.   Try increasing the energy value of their food by :

-     Reducing fibre as fibre makes you feel full – if fibre is reduced your child may not feel so full and may eat more. Try white bread over wholemeal, or a less fibrous cereal (toasted muesli over lite cereals).

-     Increase the energy density of foods and intake from good fats and oils. Try high energy toppings on bread (pate, peanut butter, cheese,or avocado), add full cream milk or cheese to soups or mashed potatoes or a cheese sauce to vegetables. 

-     High energy snacks. Snacks are a great way to top-up a child who finds it difficult to eat enough at meal times. Some ideas for high energy and nutritious snacks - salami on crackers, pikelets with honey, avocado on toast or nuts (for older children only).

  • Parental Beliefs

Some children fail to thrive and are underweight due to parental health beliefs and exaggerated concerns about weight (obesity). It is essential to highlight that -


children are NOT little adults and due to the demands of growth, they need high nutrient energy foods.


  • Children are NOT Little Adults
Children have smaller stomachs so they need to eat smaller quantities more often (snacks).   Diets that are too high in fibre or too low in fat are not appropriate for growing children. These diets only provide small amounts of energy and children will not be able to achieve their energy requirements and ultimately will be underweight.
  • Fussy Eaters
Sometimes children are underweight because they are fussy eaters – for more information on fussy eating and tips to help click here.
  • Appetite

Erratic appetites are common between one and five years as growth slows down. Toddlers and young children have a naturally fluctuating appetite which is influenced by growth cycles. There will be days where your child is hungry and other days when they will hardly touch a thing…this can be very concerning particularly if your child is naturally small.

Understand that will be times when your child is simply not hungry. Respect this and avoid forcing or coercing them to eat. Acknowledge that if your child is sick, has a sore throat or is teething, this will have an effect on their appetite.


If you are at all in doubt or concerned about your child's weight or eating behaviour - your toddler or child  consistently doesn't eat or appears to be failing to thrive or you simply are concerned...don't hesitate to seek professional advice.



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