High-Calorie Foods and Snack Ideas to Gain Weight
Who might need to gain weight?
Your registered dietitian (RD) or healthcare provider may have recommended a high-calorie and high-protein diet because your body is currently burning more calories than you are taking in. This can cause you to lose weight. Medical conditions and other causes that make it hard to gain weight include:
- Eating disorders.
- Type 1 diabetes.
- Stress, depression or anxiety.
- Infections including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, parasites and others.
- Celiac disease.
- Genetics (you were born with a high metabolism rate).
- Medicines that cause nausea and vomiting, including chemotherapy.
- Active calorie burner (you burn a lot of calories at your job, are very physically active, frequently workout).
Other circumstances in which weight gain is recommended include:
- You’ve had a long stay in the hospital and have lost weight.
- You’re an athlete and want to gain muscle weight and strength.
How is underweight defined?
You are considered to be underweight if your body mass index (BMI) is below 18.5. (See the reference section for link to easy-to-use BMI calculator.) About 2% of the population is underweight. Women are four times more likely to be underweight than men. Age groups most affected are young people ages 18 to 24 and those over the age of 65.
What are the health risks of being underweight?
While obesity is more frequently in the news as a major health problem, being underweight can also result in health problems. Health risks can include:
- Fertility problems (there may be difficulties in a woman’s ability to conceive if she is underweight).
- Osteoporosis from not getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet.
- Anemia from not getting enough iron in your diet.
- Weakened immune system.
- Thinning hair/hair loss, teeth and gum problems, dry skin.
- General tiredness from lack of energy.
- Delayed growth and development in children.
- Poor wound healing.
- Heart rhythm problems.
- Poor sleep.
What are some general concepts about how to gain weight?
The main concept to gaining weight is that you have to eat more calories than the amount your body burns. Aim to eat 300 to 500 more calories per day if you want to gain weight slowly. It’s better for your body to gain weight slowly than to put on weight quickly. Eating a surplus of 500 calories a day more than you burn results in a new pound of body mass per week. General rules include eating more often (five to six times per day), eat more fat and eat more protein.
What should I NOT do to gain weight?
Don’t eat junk food. Eating chips, sugary sodas, donuts, and candy will add pounds but not be the source of a healthy weight gain. This weight will mostly end up around your belly, which puts you at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Instead, eat healthy foods that build muscle, such as protein-rich foods.
What are some popular calorie-rich healthy foods choices?
Examples of calorie-rich foods include:
- Proteins: Red meats, pork, chicken with skin on (roast or broil don’t deep fry for your health), salmon or other oily fish, beans, whole milk, eggs, cheese, full-fat yogurt.
- Carbohydrates: potatoes, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole grains, whole grain breads.
- Fats: Nuts and nut butters, olives, avocado, butter, salad dressings, mayonnaise, high-fat cheeses.
What are some helpful tips for gaining weight?
- Eat small meals every three to five hours and snacks throughout the day to help you to consume more without feeling overly full.
- Avoid drinking water or other fluids 30 minutes before meals to prevent you from feeling full. Also, drink a reduced amount of liquids with your meals.
- Drink beverages that add calories, such as whole milk or cream, juice, shakes and smoothies, rather than water, tea, black coffee, and diet beverages that contain no calories.
- Add condiments or ‘extras’ whenever you can. Top your food with dried fruit, chopped nuts or seeds, honey, bacon bits, cheeses, mayonnaise, and salad dressings. Prepare your food with extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil or butter to add calories. Try adding hummus or avocado to sandwiches or crackers/veggies.
- When eating cereal use whole milk, half and half and add powdered milk. You can also use alternative milks if you find you are sensitive to lactose (lactose intolerance). Do the same when making scrambled eggs, soups, gravies, casseroles, and desserts.
- Choose breaded meat, chicken, and fish. Choose higher fat meats such as chicken or turkey thighs and legs, pot roast, short ribs, salami, and sausage.
- Choose fruit canned in syrup rather than juice and tuna canned in oil rather than water.
- If you are vegetarian, vegan, or lactose-intolerant, use soy/almond/coconut or rice milks, nut or seed butters, tofu, olives, avocado, and vegetable oil to add calories.
- If you prefer not to cook, or want portable snacks, stock up on individual pudding, yogurt, or cottage cheese cups, string cheese, granola bars, vending packs of trail mix, beef sticks, nuts, sunflower seeds, juice boxes, and chocolate milk cartons.
- Commercial supplements such as meal replacement bars are also options.
The following charts present snack ideas and calorie counts.
Snacks with 100 to 250 calories include:
|Snack||Number of calories|
|Apple slices and 2 tbsp. caramel dip||200|
|1/4 block tofu and 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil for sautéing||200|
|Edamame (1 cup) and 1 tbsp. olive oil||200|
|Hummus (2 oz.) and serving of crackers||200|
|Tortilla chips and salsa and 2 tbsp. sour cream or 2 oz. silken tofu||200|
|1/2 cup Jello® and 2 tbsp. whipped cream||100-150|
|Roasted chickpeas (1/2 cup) and salt and pepper||150|
|1/2 avocado on 1 slice toast||250|
|McDonald’s 4-piece chicken nuggets||150|
|McDonald’s small low-fat ice cream cone||150|
|Medium Chai latte made with soy milk||240|
|1 frozen waffle with 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. syrup||250|
|English muffin and 1 tbsp. nut butter||250|
|Zucchini or pumpkin bread slice and 2 oz. cream cheese or honey||250|
|1 egg baked in 1/2 avocado||250|
Snack ideas with 300 to 400 calories include:
|Snack||Number of |
|6 oz. container sweetened yogurt and 1/2 cup granola||300|
|1/2 cup Greek yogurt with 1 tbsp. honey and 1 tbsp. chopped nuts/seeds/dried fruit/chia or flax||300|
|1/2 cup rice/noodles with 1 tbsp. butter/olive oil and 1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese||300|
|1 sliced apple or banana with |
2 tbsp. peanut butter and chocolate chips
|3 chocolate chip cookies and |
1 cup chocolate milk
|Plain bagel and 2 tbsp. cream cheese||300-400|
|1 chicken drumstick and 1/2 cup mashed potato||400|
|1 envelope instant oatmeal cooked with 1/2 cup 2% milk, topped with 1 tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tbsp. butter, and 1 tbsp. raisins||350|
|1 one-half ounce chocolate bar (milk or dark) and 1/4 cup of almonds||400|
Snack ideas with 500 to 700 calories include:
|Snack||Number of calories|
|1/2 cup tuna or egg salad sandwich and 1 cup 2% milk||600-700|
|1/2 cup trail mix and 8 oz. juice||520|
|2 tbsp. peanut or almond butter, 1 banana, 1 cup chocolate milk, and 1 scoop protein powder (blended shake)||650|
|Grilled cheese sandwich or quesadilla: 2 slices bread or tortilla, 2 slices cheese, and 2 tbsp. butter||650|
|Snack wrap: 1 flour tortilla, 2 slices ham, 2 slices cheese, 1 tbsp. mayonnaise, and 1 cup chocolate milk||700|
|Pita bread spread with 1/4 cup hummus, stuffed with sliced avocado, olives, tomatoes, and 1 cup chocolate soy milk||500-600|
|Large bakery blueberry muffin and 1 medium vanilla latte||500-700|
Condiments and 'extras' to increase calories:
|1 tbsp. jam, jelly, marmalade, apple butter, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, honey, agave nectar, sugar, cream cheese||50-60|
|2 tbsp. hummus, guacamole||50-60|
|1 slice of bacon||50-60|
|1 tbsp. butter, margarine, vegetable oils (canola, olive, etc.) peanut butter, almond butter, tahini, mayonnaise, and sour cream||100|
|¼ cup shredded cheese, raisins or other dried fruit, croutons||100|
|¼ cup nuts or trail mix, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds||200|
|1 dark or milk chocolate bar||200|
|1/2 cup granola||200|