While most adults frown when they gain weight, it is the converse with babies where weight gain is a source of immense joy for the mother. It gives her a message that she is feeding the baby right and so is a ‘good mother’. However, some babies may have trouble gaining weight and at such times mothers may experience anxiety, self-doubt and feel guilty of not doing something right.
There could be various reasons why the baby is not gaining weight. Babies who are born prematurely or are low birth weight (LBW) tend to have trouble gaining weight. It may take them two years to ‘catch up’ with their healthy weight peers. Other reasons could be infection, diarrhea, illness or faulty eating habits. It is best that the underlying cause is first addressed and treated. Once this is done then a healthy diet which is high on nutrition can help children gain healthy weight.
Moreover, chubbiness is not the measure of weight gain. A child who is eating healthy and growing healthy is a well baby and that is all is important. So the main focus should always be on a healthy weight gain through a healthy diet.
Foods that promote healthy weight gain
Since the baby’s stomach is small it is important that energy and nutrient dense foods are given to the baby. Here is a list of foods that help a baby grow properly and gain weight healthily.
If your baby is less than six months, then breastmilk is all that she needs. Breast fed babies are leaner compared to formula fed babies as the possibility of over feeding is not there. Breast fed babies regulate their own intakes of milk based on hunger and satiety cues better than bottle fed babies.
One of the common mistakes most new mothers do is they feed concurrently from both the breasts during each feeding session. The fore milk is lower in fat while the hind milk is higher in fat. It is therefore important that babies be feed on one breast until it is ‘empty’ and then be switched to the other breast. This way the baby gets the hind milk which is higher in fat and promotes healthy weight gain. It is important that mothers consume a balanced and nutritious diet so that the supply of breast milk is adequate.
Some mothers may start feeding complementary feeds earlier, thinking that breast milk alone is not enough. But the baby’s digestive enzymes are not ready, and this will cause diarrhea leading to weight loss rather than weight gain.
Amylase Rich Flour (ARF)
When grains like ragi, wheat are germinated and then dried and ground into flour it’s rich in the enzyme alpha-amylase. By adding a teaspoon of the ARF to food, it liquefies, reduces the bulk of the dish and aids digestion in little tummies. Thus, more flour can be added to porridges which increases the energy density of the dish. That is why malted (germinated) flours are better than plain flours to make khichdi, porridges, kheer and other dishes.
High calorie fruits like banana, chickoo, mango
Add mashed banana and chikoo to porridges to make them calorie dense. They can be used to sweeten porridges rather than sugar or jagerry. These fruits also make great snacks for the babies to eat between meals. Dried fruits like raisins, apricots can also be ground and added to a dish, but they shouldn’t be given whole as they are a choking hazard.
Roots and Tubers like potato, sweet potato, tapioca, carrot, beet
These are high in starch and provide complex carbohydrates that help in healthy weight gain. Sweet potato and carrots are a good source of vitamin A too. Boil and mash these roots and tubers and mix them with a blob of butter and give the baby. Boiled carrot and beetroots also make good finger foods which the baby can eat on his/her own.
Fats like ghee, butter, malai (cream) or avocado
Fats are a concentrated source of energy. One gram of fat gives 9 Kcals and one teaspoon gives 45 Kcals. A blob of butter or ghee can be used to make porridges or added to khichadi or mashed vegetables to increase calorie density. A teaspoon of malai can be added to ragi or oats porridges. Avocado has good fats and so it can be used to make a milkshake or added to porridges or khichadi.
Milk and Milk Products
Make porridges using milk instead of water as the baby grows. Cow milk should be avoided in the first year but can be given in the second year. If formula milk is being fed, then the age appropriate dilution should be done. Whole milk can be given in the second year. Yoghurt, paneer, cheese make nutritious snacks that can be given between meals to the baby. Milk and milk products are also high in protein which is necessary for muscle weight, as well as calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and Vitamin A for healthy vision and skin.
Nuts and Oilseeds
Nuts like groundnut, cashew nuts as well as oilseeds like til/sesame seeds can be ground into a powder and added to porridges, khichadis and dals as they contain healthy fats and are concentrated source of energy. However whole nuts should not be given to babies as they can be a choking hazard.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and provide energy, vitamins A and D. During the first year, only the yolk is given without the whites to rule out any allergies. In the second year, the whole egg (yolk + white) can be given to the baby.
Dals, Peas, Beans
Mung, masur, tur dal can be boiled with some haldi/turmeric and tomatoes or dudhi and given to the baby along with rice or chappati. Peas and beans like chna, rajmah need to be mashed and given to the baby so that choking is eliminated. They are a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals.
If the baby is a meat eater then shredded chicken, fish with bones carefully remove, minced liver and meat can be given to the baby. Fish contains calcium, Vitamins A and D, as well as omega 3 fatty acid which helps in healthy brain development of babies. Liver and meat are a good source of iron which is needed for the formation of haemoglobin that helps in carrying oxygen throughout the body.
Sweet but not sugar
Many mothers in their effort to make the baby/toddler may resort to adding sugar to the meals. However, the flipside is children get accustomed to the sweet taste and may not accept dishes without added sugar. The sugar will cause weight gain no doubt, but this is not healthy as it predisposes the baby/toddler to childhood obesity and dental carries. A better option is to add mashed fruit banana, chikko, mango or ground dates/khajur to the dish.
Say no to junk foods
Cakes, cookies, biscuits, wafers, fries and aerated beverages are best avoided as they pack ‘empty calories’ with no nourishment. Chocolates, lollipops and high sweetened foods are not a good choice either.
Go for concentrated vs diluted foods
Soups and juices contain large amounts of water so it’s better that these be limited. Instead, whole fruit and vegetables can be given. Foods like porridges, khichdi should be thick in consistency so that when you tilt the spoon, they are thick enough to stay on it without dropping off.
Recipes that promote healthy weight gain
The baby/toddler has a small stomach and it may not be possible to eat roti, sabji/veg, dal and rice all at the same meal. It is best to combine two to three nourishing foods in a dish. This way meals become nutrient dense which means more energy and nutrients per teaspoon that the toddler eats. Vegetable Dal Khichadi, Dal Palak with Rice, Aloo/Veg Paratha with Curd, Missi Roti with Dal are examples of recipes that can be given at main meals. Sweet Potato Kheer, Barley Veg Porridge, Oats Fruit Porridge, Sprouted Ragi Porridge with fruit are good too especially for 6-9-month old babies. Idli, mung dosa, milkshakes, smoothies, sheeras, scrambled eggs also make for great breakfast and snack options.
It’s not just nutritious food but also the responsive feeding, where the mother makes eye contact with the child, doesn’t force feed the child and provides encouragement, that helps kids eat well. Sometimes just changing the shape of foods, adding a dash of color (not artificial) or spice (not chilies) can make babies interested in eating. Distractions like television should be avoided at all costs. Dr. R.K. Anand explains, “Children, who are small at birth, may not weigh as much as their peers. The parents should be told that so long as the child follows the growth curve, they should be happy.”