Healthy Fats for Underweight Toddlers

If your toddler is underweight, he has an increased risk for delayed growth and development. Increasing healthy fats in his diet is an excellent way to boost his calorie intake for weight gain, as fat provides 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates only contain 4 calories per gram. In fact, according to a 2006 edition of “American Family Physician,” restricting a toddler’s fat intake is associated with poor growth and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to avoid any fat restrictions in the diets of toddlers younger than age 2.

Fat Requirements

According to the Institute of Medicine, toddlers ages 1 to 3 should consume 30 to 40 percent of their total calories from fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 estimate toddlers ages 2 to 3 need 1,000 to 1,400 calories each day for proper growth and development. Therefore, a toddler consuming 1,000 calories per day needs 33 to 45 grams of fat each day, and a child eating 1,400 calories needs 47 to 62 grams of fat per day. If your child is underweight, his calorie—and fat--needs may be higher than these recommendations.

Whole Milk

glass of milk and bottle of milk on the wood table.

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Drinking whole milk can boost your toddler’s calorie and fat intake for weight gain, and provide him with protein, calcium and vitamins D and A. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory, 1 cup of whole milk contains about 150 calories, 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates and about 8 grams of fat. “American Family Physician” recommends toddlers consume two to three 1-cup servings of milk or dairy products every day. However, avoid offering children younger than 1 year of age whole milk; infants need breast milk or infant formula to meet their nutritional needs.

Full-Fat Dairy

If your child is unable—or unwilling—to drink whole milk, he may enjoy whole-milk yogurt or cheese instead. One cup of plain, whole-milk yogurt contains about 150 calories and 8 grams of fat, according to the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, which is the same amount as in 1 cup of whole milk. One slice of cheddar cheese provides your toddler with about 113 calories and 9 grams of fat, according to the USDA.


glass of milk and bottle of milk on the wood table.

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Avocados are rich in healthy, unsaturated fats and calories, and are easy for toddlers to eat. One avocado contains about 322 calories and 30 grams of fat, according to the USDA. Avocados are also rich in vitamins K, E, A and C, folate, niacin, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium.

Nut Butters

Not all toddlers are developmentally ready for nut butters, such as peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter. For young toddlers, these healthy fats are a choking risk. However, if your pediatrician gives you permission, peanut butter and other nut butters are excellent sources of protein, calories and healthy fats. According to the USDA, 2 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter contain about 190 calories and 16 grams of fat.


Since hummus is usually made with soybean or canola oil, it’s an excellent source of healthy fats and calories for underweight toddlers. Because of its smooth consistency, hummus is easy for toddlers to eat. Make eating hummus fun for your toddler by letting him dip crackers or pretzels into it or practice eating it with a spoon.

Purified Fish Oils

Fish oil is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your toddler’s cognitive development. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests toddlers limit fish consumption because of potential contaminants, such as mercury. Fish oils that are purified are free from harmful levels of such contaminants. Mix flavored, purified children’s fish oil with your toddler’s milk or yogurt; or offer it to him by spoon to add extra calories and omega-3 fats to his diet. Ask your pediatrician for brand and dosing recommendations before offering fish oil to your toddler.

Children’s Nutrition Shakes

High-calorie children’s nutrition shakes contain healthy combinations of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Encouraging your toddler to drink nutrition shakes between meals can help boost his calorie and fat intake for weight gain. Look for flavored nutrition shakes specifically designed for toddlers; always ask your pediatrician before offering your toddler a high-calorie supplement.