Your child needs a lot of energy to breathe, fight off infections, and lead the healthiest life possible with cystic fibrosis (CF). Take a moment to learn more about your child’s unique dietary needs. These smart snack ideas that can help you make sure they’re eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet.

Get the facts on your child’s nutritional needs

A person with CF needs an estimated 1.5 to 2 times as many calories as someone without CF, reports the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). If your child is trying to gain weight, they need to eat even more calories. In people with CF, higher weight is linked to better lung function.

The source of theses extra calories is important too. They shouldn’t come mostly from sugar. According to the CFF, a high-fat diet, with approximately 40 percent of calories coming from fat, is generally recommended. Foods that are rich in fat can help your child meet their caloric needs. Some CF medications, including CFTR modulators, need to be taken with foods that contain fat.

Your child also needs high-quality protein and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products to thrive. In addition, it’s important for them to drink enough water and other fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated.

To help them meet their nutritional needs, encourage your child to eat healthy high-calorie snacks throughout the day, as well as multiple meals. Let’s take a look at some simple snack ideas.

Prepackaged snacks

When your child is on the go, they need snacks that they can grab and carry. Consider stocking your shelves with prepackaged high-calorie snacks, such as packets of:

  • sunflower seeds
  • roasted peanuts
  • mixed nuts
  • trail mix
  • protein bars
  • cheese or peanut butter sandwich crackers

While bags of chips and other junk food are high in calories, they’re usually low in vitamins, minerals, and other healthful nutrients. The snacks above offer a healthier alternative.

Smoothies

There are many ingredients that you can add to smoothies to increase the calorie and fat count in healthy ways. Start with a base of whole milk or nut milk. Add a variety of fruits and vegetables for color, flavor, and nutrients. Then considering adding one or more of the following ingredients:

  • full-fat yogurt
  • nuts or nut butter
  • chia seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • protein powder
  • fat powder
  • avocado

Your child can enjoy smoothies alongside meals or as a stand-alone snack. For convenience, consider blending up a big batch of smoothie to store in a pitcher in your fridge. That will make it easy for your kid to guzzle glassfuls throughout the day.

High-calorie dips

Many dips are rich sources of calories, fat, and other nutrients. If your child is a fan of finger food, consider serving them whole-grain tortilla chips, crackers, or pita with one or more of the following high-calorie dips:

  • queso dip
  • guacamole
  • ranch dressing
  • roasted red pepper dip
  • cheese and artichoke dip
  • hummus drizzled in olive oil
  • tapenade
  • pesto

You can also serve dips with vegetable sticks. While vegetables are lower in calories than tortilla chips and other grain-based options, they provide vitamins and minerals that your child needs.

Toast and sandwiches

When your little one is looking for something substantial to sink their teeth into, toast and sandwiches are easy options. For example, they can reach for:

  • toast with butter, nut butter, or other calorie-rich spreads
  • toast with sliced avocado, ground pepper, and a drizzle of hot sauce
  • a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese
  • a peanut butter and jam sandwich
  • a sandwich with cheese and deli meat
  • a sandwich with egg, chicken, or tuna salad
  • a grilled-cheese sandwich

For more nutritious toast and sandwiches, use whole-grain bread products rather than refined white bread, buns, or bagels. Wraps, burritos, quesadillas, and stuffed pitas also make filling snacks.

Nutritional supplements

While they shouldn’t be used to replace meals, high-calorie nutritional supplements can make a smart snack for your child. You can also serve them as part of a larger meal.

Many types of nutritional supplements are available, including:

  • prepackaged shakes (such as Ensure)
  • flavored powers and protein powders that you can mix into beverages
  • high-calorie juices that contain protein

Your child’s dietitian can help you decide which nutritional supplements are best for them.

Seeking more help

Sometimes, even with a great nutrition plan, it can be a challenge for a person with CF to eat enough to meet their dietary needs. If you suspect that your child is underweight or losing weight, make an appointment with their care team. In some cases, they might recommend tube feeding to supplement your child’s snacks and meals.

However, there may be other options to try. Your child’s doctor may prescribe or adjust dosing of pancreatic enzyme supplements or recommend other changes to a treatment plan. Your child’s dietitian may also have ideas about helpful dietary supplements.

The takeaway

Kids with CF have unique nutritional needs and benefit from a high-calorie, healthy diet. There are lots of food and snack options that can make dietary planning easier. Stocking up on simple snacks and ingredients that are rich in fats can help ensure your child is getting the nutrients they need.