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12 Foods That Are Secretly Making Your Kids Gain Weight (Slideshow)

12 Foods That Are Secretly Making Your Kids Gain Weight (Slideshow)

You may be packing unhealthy foods in your kid’s lunchbox unknowingly

While some of these “sneaky” foods have some nutritional value, there are ingredients that could be secretly making your child gain weight, and Dr. De Silva helps us to undercover these covert culprits.

Be Wary of Seemingly Healthy

While some of these “sneaky” foods have some nutritional value, there are ingredients that could be secretly making your child gain weight, and Dr. De Silva helps us to undercover these covert culprits.



It can be difficult to get your little one to drink water, so juice has become a beverage of choice for parents. De Silva warns that “juice is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic and this is due to the hidden source of sugar and lack of fiber…Choose 100% juice and limit to six ounces per day,” she tells parents. “The best recommendation is to water down juice to reduce calories and increase hydration. To reduce risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, limit juice altogether.”

Kids’ Yogurt


Yogurt sounds like a good idea: it’s packed with protein, calcium, and other nutritional benefits that make it a perfect after-school snack for kids. But yogurt flavors marketed toward kids are another story. They usually contain color additives and a lot of sugar, and that’s just in the yogurt, let alone the toppings or mix-ins companies add to make them more appealing to children.

Granolas and Cereals


A bowl of colorful cereal or crunchy granola for breakfast can make getting out of the house in the morning much easier. But be warned: “Cereals can be a hidden source of sugar,” says De Silva. “Most cereals marketed towards children are high in refined sugar, salt, and calories, but are low in fiber, which can lead to weight gain.” She adds, “Cereals are the fourth biggest source of sugar behind sugary drinks such as soda, desserts and candy.” De Silva states, “change to healthier high-fiber cereal. Fiber and protein are important in increasing the hormones that trigger the feelings of being full.”

Peanut Butter


It’s that magical spread found lunch boxes everywhere: peanut butter. Even though it “can actually help control satiety,” De Silva recommends “everything in moderation.” Peanut butter packs a nutritional punch with protein, fiber, beneficial fat and other nutrients, but some varieties have unwanted additives like sugar. “The key to weight control is portion control with peanut butter, and some limits.” De Silva continues, “So, allowing more than one to two portions of peanut butter [per day] can also lead to over-consumption of calories and obesity.”



While string cheese includes calcium and protein, which are essential for growing kids, they also contain solid fats. Cheese and other high fat, high calorie foods have the potential to increase cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Offer your child low- or non-fat options.

Whole milk


Like cheese, whole milk has a ton of nutritional value. But with a high fat content, it can cause your child to gain weight. Milk products contain solid fats and are high in calories. The great thing about milk is no matter the fat content, all milks have the same vitamin and mineral content. After the age of two, the fat in whole milk becomes more detrimental than beneficial, as it adds calories to your kids’ diet. One-percent or skim milk can help children maintain a healthy weight.

Hot Dogs


Picky eaters are hard to please, and sometimes hot dogs do the trick when parents are trying to get their little ones to eat dinner. Unfortunately, hot dogs are far from the best thing for kids. In fact, they might be one of the 10 worst foods for children’s health. “Hot dogs are high in sodium, nitrates, and calories, which can lead to obesity if consumed regularly,” Dr. De Silva says. “This is one of those foods that I put a ban on.”



Opting to put a baggie full of pretzels in your child’s lunch instead of greasy potato chips seems like a wholesome alternative. Though low in fat, pretzels are essentially refined carbohydrates and usually overloaded with sodium. These addictive snacks lack the nutritional benefits that your kids need to grow mentally and physically. Unsalted, air-popped popcorn is a smarter option, as popcorn has plenty of fiber and is a whole grain.

Frozen Yogurt


Even though some yogurts can be a super healthy snack for people of all ages, frozen yogurt is missing some of those benefits. You might think frozen yogurt is a healthier alternative to ice cream for your child, but fro-yo might actually have the same amount of fat and calories. Plus, the frozen variety of yogurt is lacking those good-for-you bacteria that promote a healthy belly.

Dipping Sauces

Sometimes parents rely on dipping sauces to make those less-than-appealing foods more appetizing for their kids, but they could be doing more harm than good. De Silva says to “avoid sauces due to sugar.” Dipping sauces like ketchup, barbeque sauce, veggie dips, and especially cheese could be hiding high sugar and fat content.

Gluten Free Snacks


The gluten-free lifestyle is having a moment, so gluten-free snacks are crowding the shelves at the grocery store. These gluten-free snacks may not be all they’ve cracked up to be. It turns out those gluten-free pretzels or pizza dough may have a higher calorie count than the real thing. Some of the ingredients manufactures add to try to replicate the texture and taste of gluten, like brown rice flour, are actually higher in calories than what they are trying to replace.

Pasta Sauce

Pasta sauce seems healthy; it’s just tomatoes and herbs, right? Wrong. Pasta sauce can actually be causing your kid to gain weight. “Sauces too, can be hidden sources of sugar,” says De Silva. A quick pasta dinner is perfect for a weeknight but she recommends skipping the kind from a jar and suggests making your own instead. “For flavor, try starting with extra virgin olive oil; sauté garlic and onion and add fresh tomatoes.” That way, “You control the salt and sugar.”

12 Foods That Leave You Hungry

Flaky, buttery, and perfect with your morning latte. But they score really low on the satiety index, a measure of how well a food satisfies your hunger. There’s not much in them that’s good for you, and they’re loaded with fat and white flour. That gives you more calories without leaving you satisfied. If you want a breakfast that will last you to lunch, a poached egg on whole-grain toast should do the trick.

Some kids just do not seem to gain weight, and there could be multiple reasons behind this. One reason is the genetic constitution of the underweight child&rsquos parents. If both the mother and the father are lean, the baby may share similar physical attributes. Metabolism also plays an important part in a child&rsquos weight gain pattern. If your child is otherwise active and healthy, she will eventually meet the weight milestone for her age.

You can consider keeping a food diary for your child and make a note of likes, dislikes, preferences and allergies, and prepare weekly menus to make mealtimes fun and tantrum-free. Here are a few tips you can try to boost weight gain in your child:

  • Ensure that the child gets adequate exercise and indulges in physical activities so that her appetite is healthy.
  • Focus on providing a healthy, well-balanced, and nutritious diet and don&rsquot just concentrate on weight gain.
  • As the child grows, introduce her to sports such as swimming, cycling, etc. Active participation in sports will help her work up an appetite and also help develop her physique.

There’s No Easy Fix for Children’s Weight Gain

Experts advise families to avoid blaming themselves and to look for opportunities to congratulate children for healthy behaviors and good decisions.

Even when we’re not in the middle of a terrible pandemic, there are a great many tensions around what to say and do at pediatric visits when a child’s weight is increasing too quickly.

There’s the issue of self-image and fat stigma some people remember forever the moment when a doctor first called their weight a problem, ripping the child out of the happy innocence of feeling comfortable in his or her body.

The pandemic has raised worries about children’s weight gain, perhaps exacerbated by the absence of school, not to mention sports and other activities that used to give structure to the day and mark off some no-eating zones. Economic hardships and curtailed grocery shopping may be limiting some families’ ability to make healthy food choices.

“Parents should allow themselves some grace,” said Dr. Eliana Perrin, professor of pediatrics and director of the Duke Center for Childhood Obesity Research. “Families are having a tough time, kids are having a tough time, there’s increased food insecurity, people have lost their jobs, kids may have lost school meals.”

Dr. Sandy Hassink, a pediatrician who devoted her career to taking care of children with obesity and now works with the American Academy of Pediatrics at the Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight, and who worked on the academy’s interim guidance on obesity, said, “Even in pre-Covid times, I noticed as a clinician that nutrition and activity tend to go out the window in a time of stress.”

[Clickhere for the recent A.A.P. statement on healthy nutrition and physical activity during the pandemic, andhere for its statement on obesity management during the pandemic.]

There are so many factors that have made it more difficult for families to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the pandemic, Dr. Hassink said, from increased sedentary time and screen time to the increased snacking and dysregulated sleep which sometimes come with being at home. Families may have less access to fresh food, she said, and then, of course, there’s stress eating.

Pediatricians often find themselves struggling to find the right balance in what to say to a family in these situations. Somehow, in those fraught moments in the exam room, real or virtual, you have to find words to acknowledge the complexity of the problem but also, most pediatricians feel, to recognize that parents do have some power and some agency, and to offer them hope and encouragement for making at least small adjustments to help the family establish healthier patterns.

Dr. Perrin and her colleagues at Duke pediatrics collected a set of suggestions for families, but before they got to the specifics of dietary change, increased activity, screen time and sleep, they started with a category they called “Survival,” advising families to pay attention to “mind, heart, body, spirit,” to avoid blaming themselves, to look for opportunities to congratulate their children for healthy behaviors and good decisions.

“Forget what ‘needs’ to get done for physical activity goals and ‘perfect’ meal goals,” Dr. Perrin wrote. “Do their best to eat at home and just ‘show up’ every day in terms of physical activity.” Specific suggestions around food include involving children in the cooking, and using the government MyPlate site to plan healthy meals on a budget. For physical activity, find some way to get moving, even a little, every day.

“As always, try to focus on behaviors, not weight,” Dr. Perrin wrote. “What’s important is making sure families are eating as well as they can — whole grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables, drinking water — rather than a ton of fast foods or sugar-sweetened beverages, and making sure they are staying active.”

Among the harshest lessons of this terrible pandemic year has been how health disparities play out across the life course, as we’ve watched higher death and disease rates in Black and brown communities. There are many issues to tackle here in terms of health equity, but for children growing up in at-risk populations, childhood obesity is yet another serious health disparity, linked to some of the underlying conditions that put people at higher risk for severe Covid-19 disease.

These disparities require complex systemic fixes — from access to healthy food, to safe places for outdoor activity, to improved mental health services, to other supports that can reduce stress on families. Instead, parents and children often encounter blame and stigma.

“Obesity itself as a disease presents a risk for more severe Covid infection,” Dr. Hassink said. “If I substituted the word asthma for obesity, people would not be blaming people for having asthma, they would be saying, let’s make sure your environment doesn’t have allergens, let’s make sure you get the right meds, the right medical care, but not blaming the child.”

Dr. Michelle White, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke, is a health services researcher who studies what might be protective for families at high risk of obesity, looking at environmental and family factors, including the ways that neighborhoods can contribute to obesity risks — or solutions. “Some families reporting significant impact by Covid-19 are still able to demonstrate resilience to stress and behaviors such as physical activity and healthy diet,” she said. “I think we have a lot to learn from these families.”

Dr. White said it was important not to view pandemic weight gain as a product only of diet and exercise behaviors. “The social context and the physical context of our families is so incredibly important in terms of their risk of weight gain,” she said.

My colleague Dr. Mary Jo Messito, who directs the pediatric weight management program at N.Y.U. School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, said, “My patients are suffering terribly.” They face many barriers to exercise because of fears of being exposed to Covid, she said, and also food insecurity and a very high level of stress. “So many people don’t meet their goals because they have unaddressed mental health needs,” Dr. Messito said, pointing to the need for more mental health resources for low-income communities.

“I work to try to give people resources where they are,” she said, offering handouts and information about healthy food for people on limited budgets, but acknowledging, “it’s not going to compete with fast food for calories for dollar.” She recommends in-home exercise programs or talks about how to mask up and go outside safely, and she talks about avoiding sugary drinks.

Dr. Elsie Taveras, a professor of nutrition in the department of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that the challenge ahead will be to find ways to “go beyond surface counseling,” to help families find ways to turn this around, perhaps looking for help from experts in mental and behavioral health. Doctors will need to think about the dual burden of weight gain combined with the social risks brought on by the pandemic.

“If a patient with obesity comes in for a visit and I also know the family is living in a motel or they’re food insecure,” she said, “I need to adapt my plan to circumstances rather than say, ‘increase fruits and vegetables.’”

Pandemic weight gain is a problem for adults as well as children, Dr. Taveras said. “We’re home more, have more access to our beds, our refrigerators, our screens, we are experiencing extreme stress and uncertainty, and food and rest are things people turn to for comfort.”

“It’s important for people to have self-compassion here,” Dr. Hassink said. And it’s overwhelming to tackle all of this at once. “Maybe we should be helping people pick one thing they think they could change to make it healthier, strategize about how they might make progress on one thing.”

A parent might try to keep healthier food in the house, thereby eliminating all the individual decisions that have to be made “when your child starts to grab for that unhealthy snack.”

Maybe start by setting a time for a particular meal, she said. Maybe make a deal with a child to stand up and walk around the house for five minutes for every so much screen time.

“Take it one thing at a time that you might want to change, get help from your pediatrician about what resources might be available in your community for food and physical activity, and don’t beat yourself up,” Dr. Hassink said. “Take one small step and then be encouraged to take the next step.”

If your Child is Really Underweight

In some cases, particularly if the child’s weight is below the third percentile, lack of weight gain can be a genuine concern. In such a scenario, the first thing to do is to follow the doctor’s advice. A failure to gain weight can be due to multiple reasons – Congenital Heart Disease, infections, digestive issues like GERD, malabsorption or some kind of food intolerance.

Along with the doctor’s advice, it is important to ensure that a high calorie diet is designed for the child. The reason is that even though calories are burnt during exertion, the extra calories will help in weight gain. When planning a high calorie diet for your child, it is absolutely crucial to ensure that it includes healthy and wholesome foods, rather than heavy foods that are full of empty calories.

Unhealthy high calorie foods may lead to some gain in weight, but at the cost of nutrients. Moreover, when the child is full of unhealthy food, he or she won’t have the appetite for healthy foods. It also creates a dangerous addiction for high sugar or processed foods that can lead to various lifestyle diseases. At the same time, it is also important to include a good amount of protein, so that the extra calories are in the form of muscle mass and are not deposited as fat.

Your child's diet

All children need the energy (calories) and nutrients that come from a varied and balanced diet.

If your child is underweight, it may be tempting to fill them up with high-calorie but unhealthy foods, such as sweets, cake, chocolate and sugary and fatty foods and drinks. However, it's important that your child gains weight in a healthy way, and this means eating a balanced diet.

Once your child is 5, they should be eating a healthy, low-fat diet like the one recommended for adults. Find out more in What to feed young children.

What is a balanced diet?

The government advises that children aged 5 and over follow the Eatwell Guide. This guide shows the proportions in which different types of foods are needed to have a balanced diet:

  • Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates. Choose wholegrain where possible.
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts). Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options.
  • Eat some beans and pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein. Aim for 2 portions of fish every week – 1 of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6 to 8 glasses a day.

Try to choose a variety of different foods from the 5 main food groups.

Consume foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar less often and in small amounts.

Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre.

Learn more about the different food groups and how they form part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Children's meals at home

Do you find it difficult to make time to prepare healthy balanced meals for the whole family? If so, that might be part of the reason your child is not consuming enough calories.

Try to make time for breakfast and dinner, and eat together as a family. Make mealtime a fun part of the day.

Children's lunches

During the week, your child will eat lunch at school. It's impossible to monitor exactly what your child eats away from home, but you can help your child make healthy choices.

  • Talk to your child about the importance of a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Give your child prepaid school lunches, or a healthy packed lunch, instead of giving money that your child can spend on food.
  • Find out what the school's healthy eating policy is.

These days, school lunches are more likely to meet a child's nutritional requirements compared with the average packed lunch.

If you would prefer to make your child a packed lunch, make sure it is nutritionally balanced.

A healthier packed lunch should:

  • be based on starchy carbohydrates (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta)
  • include fresh fruit and vegetables/salad
  • include protein such as beans and pulses, eggs, fish, meat, cheese (or dairy alternative)
  • include a side dish, such as a low-fat and lower-sugar yoghurt (or dairy alternative), tea cake, fruit bread, plain rice/corn cakes, homemade plain popcorn, sugar-free jelly
  • include a drink, such as water, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, sugar-free or no-added sugar drink

Nutrition Tips

The glycemic load is key. This is the measure of how quickly a food containing carbohydrates turns into glucose. Studies have shown that when a kid eats a high-glycemic meal, his blood-glucose surges and then plummets -- leaving him even hungrier. A low-glycemic meal takes longer to digest so a child&aposs blood sugar stays steady, and he&aposll feel full longer. In general, low-glycemic carbs have more fiber and are less processed.

Choose lots of veggies and fruits (but not all of them). No surprise here: You should pile on the produce. However, corn and potatoes have a high glycemic index, and certain tropical fruits, such as bananas and pineapple, are more likely to contribute to weight gain than apples, grapes, oranges, cantaloupe, kiwi, or berries.

Try to include protein in most meals and snacks. In addition to being filling, protein stimulates the release of a hormone that helps the body release stored fat to use for energy, says Dr. Ludwig.

Fat isn&apost always the enemy. Healthy fats like unsaturated oils, nut butters, and avocado slow down digestion, and they make fruit, veggies, and whole grains even more filling. Fat is actually vital to health: It&aposs needed to make cell membranes throughout the body -- and the types of fat your child eats affect his immune system, nervous system, and overall health.

Avoid foods that your great-grandparents couldn&apost have recognized. Fake foods (think chicken nuggets, fruit roll-ups, cheese puffs, and other highly processed products bearing no resemblance to anything found in nature) are rarely healthy choices, says Dr. Ludwig. When you choose grains, look for the least-processed options, such as stone-ground wheat bread, steel-cut oatmeal, and brown rice.

Food can affect behavior, too. When your child&aposs blood sugar drops soon after a high-glycemic meal, she also has a surge in the stress hormone adrenaline. That can make her cranky, irritable, or unable to focus in class.

Kids don&apost have to feel deprived. No parent wants to put their child on a diet. But if the whole family focuses on low-glycemic eating, one child who has a weight problem won&apost feel singled out. By helping him focus on the quality of the food he&aposs eating rather than the quantity, he can eat until he feels satisfied and still lose weight. For more information, go to

The Best Ingredients To Add To Your Smoothie

The fascinating thing about smoothies is that they’re very versatile, you can add whichever ingredients you prefer and change recipes according to your liking.

This can be water, milk, coconut water(or coconut milk drink), nut milk, or even brewed tea. You can always add a mix of liquid with greek or regular yogurt for an extra nutritional boost and creamier consistency.

Frozen Fruit

Strawberries, blueberries, acai puree, peaches, blackberries, raspberries, and mangoes. These are all great for a flavorful and colorful smoothie.

Fresh Fruit

Here’s when the soft fruit jumps in, avocados and bananas are a staple in smoothies. They give smoothies a perfect consistency and taste awesome.

These are optional, of course. If you use a lot of vegetables in your smoothie and need to offset the taste with a little sweetener, you can go for natural sweeteners like honey, agave or maple syrup.

Healthy Fats

Get your daily requirement of healthy fats straight from your smoothie! You can add nut butter, coconut oil, olive oil, chia and flax seeds.

Crushed ice gives your smoothie the perfect consistency and chill. Make sure you omit ice if your soft fruit is frozen too.

Optional Additions

There are many add-ons that make your smoothie even more flavorsome. These include greens, cacao powder, cacao nibs, pumpkin seeds, lime juice, ginger, and cinnamon.

Protein powders are great for smoothies. Whey protein used to be the main protein powder available commercially but now there are many non-dairy alternatives such as hemp, soy, or rice protein powders.

Here are the top-rated protein powder choices to use in your smoothies : BSN whey protein or Orgain plant protein

Commercial Shakes

Although homemade shakes are best because you can tailor them to your child's tastes, commercial products are more convenient -- especially if your child is often on the go. Avoid weight-gain supplements targeted to adults like bodybuilders because these often contain extra amino acids and other supplements that aren't appropriate for a child's size or growth needs. Instead, seek out prepackaged shakes and powders designed for kids. Your doctor can direct you to the most appropriate products.

Chocolate Avocado Weight Gainer Shake

Ingredient Calories Protein Fat Carbs
Chocolate Milk, 12 ounces 311 11.9 g 12.7 g 38.7 g
Avocado, 1 ripe, halved and pitted 240 3 g 22 g 12.8 g
Banana, 1 medium 105 1 g 0 g 27 g
Dark Chocolate, 1 ounces (melted) 170 2.2 g 12.1 g 13 g
Chocolate Protein Powder, 2 scoops 240 50 g 2 g 4 g

For protein powder choices, there are numerous companies that make a "chocolate" flavor.

Here are some chocolate flavors worth consideration:

  • BSN Syntha-6, Chocolate Milkshake or Chocolate Cake Batter
  • MuscleTech Nitro-Tech 100% Whey Gold, Double Rich Chocolate
  • MusclePharm Combat Protein Powder, Chocolate Milk
  • Scivation Xtend Pro Whey Isolate, Chocolate Lava Cake
  • PERFECT Sports Diesel New Zealand Whey Protein Isolate, Chocolate Wafer Crisp

Directions: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and pour into the blender. Place the rest of the ingredients in the blender, and gently pulse blend until all protein powder and avocado lumps are gone.


Have you tried any of these recies, or experimented with your own weight gaining shakes? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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