Toddlers should consume about 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day, according to KidsHealth.org, but many toddlers are only able to eat a small amount at each sitting. If your toddler is underweight, providing healthy, calorie-dense snacks several times a day can help him gain weight and get the nutrients he needs.
1. Weight-Gain Snacks
High-calorie, nutrient-dense snacks include whole milk, cottage cheese, pudding, dried fruit, refried beans, nuts, creamed vegetables, fresh vegetables with cheese sauce or creamy dip, buttered noodles, fried rice, pancakes, biscuits, fruit juice, canned fruit, meat or fried tofu. You can also add calories to milk by stirring 1 cup of powdered milk into a quart of whole milk. Be careful giving toddlers nuts and dried fruit, as some large nuts or fruits may pose a choking hazard. Other fruits and vegetables -- particularly whole cherry tomatoes and grapes -- are choking hazards for children under the age of 5. Also, remember that toddler portion sizes are smaller than adult portions. Finally, avoid overly processed foods, which aren't as nutritious.
2. Tricks to Add Calories
You can also tweak your child's or family's favorite dishes to make them more calorie-dense. For example, add cheese sauce, creamy salad dressing, butter or gravy to dishes such as pasta, vegetables or casseroles. Use evaporated milk in pudding, cocoa, mashed potatoes and hot cereal. In addition, add wheat germ or small pieces of dried fruit to yogurt, hot or cold cereal, granola, muffins or ice cream.
Providing regular meals and snacks helps a toddler eat more calories. Sit down at the same time each day for three meals and two or three scheduled snacks. Provide a variety of choices for snacks and let toddlers choose which snack they want. Sitting down to eat snacks, rather than eating them on the go, helps your toddler get more calories. If you won't be home for a meal or snack, however, bring food with you to ensure your toddler doesn't skip a meal.
If you aren't sure whether your toddler is underweight, ask your pediatrician. If your child is towards the bottom of the growth chart, she isn't necessarily underweight; it's more important that toddlers and children follow a steady growth curve. In addition, talk to your doctor if your toddler has difficulty swallowing or with the physical process of eating. Some toddlers, such as those who swallow repeatedly or drool while eating, may benefit from working with a feeding therapist.