High Calorie Nutrient Dense Food Ideas to Gain Healthy Weight

I know what you’re thinking – Is Sarah REALLY going to outline high calorie foods that are also nutrient dense to GAIN weight? Aren’t high calories bad? This is such a faux pas topic.

Literally, google “high calorie foods” and all you will find is “high calories foods to AVOID”. I couldn’t even find a decent stock image that was good for weight gain as it was always a person looking highly stressed standing on a scale or grabbing their abdomen with the words “need diet” on it.

It’s always seen as such a negatively viewed topic, because heaven forbid anyone in the world need to gain weight. We’re all about weight loss right? Wrong! I see plenty of people who need to gain weight whether it’s extremely active kids and teens, active adults or adults with fast metabolisms, and individuals recovering from eating disorders. Some people need high calorie nutrient dense foods even to maintain or to lose weight as well just to decrease the overall bulk of food in their stomachs.

While it is great that messages go out about weight loss for those who are in a dangerous area of obesity impacting their health, unfortunately the messages aren’t filtered and it leads everyone to think that everyone, and I mean everyone, is eating to lose weight. And leading everyone to think that they themselves need to lose weight too, even if they don’t.

There aren’t even a lot of resources out there stating positively “how to stay exactly how you are”. You’re either losing weight or you’re losing weight. Not much of a choice out there.

So since it bothered me that very minimal resources are out there about how to gain weight in a healthy and nutrient dense way I decided this would be a great blog topic. You can find some resources on weight gain, but it’s often the “eat chips, white bagels, white rice, and juice” kind of way which will do no one good in terms of health. You can gain weight, be healthy and feel great while doing it, it’s possible!

I worried a bit about blogging about this because I fear there will be a few people who will never eat the foods I mention below ever again as they might now associate the following foods with weight gain, but I will just state that these foods are excellent for weight loss too, it all depends on the overall quantity they are consumed along with other foods that are consumed  and of course, your activity level – so don’t be turned off them because they’re real, whole, nutrient dense foods no matter what your nutritional goal.

Adding Calorie and Nutrient Dense Foods to Current Meals to Aid in Weight Gain

  • Avocados – blend into dressings, pesto sauces, chop onto green or grain salads, add slices to sandwiches or in wraps, blend into smoothies, use as a dip, or eat a whole one on it’s own!
  • Nuts and seeds – ground nuts/seeds can be used to coat chicken/fish, add them to green or grain salads, shave cashews onto thai noodles or pasta, spread nut butter onto wholegrain crackers or on a banana, add nut butters to smoothies or soups, add nuts/seeds onto breakfast porridges, or onto full fat yogurt parfaits
  • Switch to full fat milk or use full fat coconut milk for dairy free options – add to pureed soups, smoothies, sauces like curries, or pour over berries and/or cereal
  • Switch to whole milk yogurt – make parfaits with nuts/seeds/fruit/granola like my dense gluten free granola
  • Grass fed beef and organic chicken thighs – don’t be shy to switch, these are great for you! High in fat and higher in nutrient dense calories when they are bought organic . You can add ground beef to egg omelettes, use in casseroles and you can use chicken thighs anywhere chicken breasts were previously used. Chicken thighs also have a substance called myoglobin which is excellent at helping with oxygen to your own muscles for endurance activities – it does serve a purpose 😉
  • Quinoa – this is a great high protein and calorie dense grain that can easily be added to soups, stews, green salads, or made entirely into a salad on it’s own, you can mix it into chili, or breakfast porridges
  • Healthy oils – use extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, flax oil, etc to add to dressings, soups, stews, and even coconut oil in porridge tastes delicious!
  • Beans – easy to add to soups, rice, quinoa, even smoothies! It adds more protein to your meal and excellent slow releasing carbohydrates.

When you’re trying to gain weight, you are going to feel full pretty much always. So this is why it’s best to consume foods that will provide a lot of nutrient density without a lot of food volume so you don’t end up feeling even more full and preventing you from getting to your goal. So think about how you want to condense those calories into as small of a block as possible instead of consuming lots of bulky airy foods that will take up space you don’t have.

Types of Meals That Are Easy to Hide Extra Calories to Aid In Weight Gain

  • Smoothies – because everything is blended and already broken down, this will sit well in your stomach. These can be made as calorie dense as you want by adding nut butters, protein powders, full fat dairy or non dairy milks/yogurts, nuts/seeds, avocado, fresh fruit, vegetables, and some people enjoy putting soaked grains in if you have a high powered blender.
  • Stews/Soups – because everything is condensed and cooked you can work on swapping out ingredients that have a high calorie/nutrient dense food like whole milk for milk, or regular coconut milk for lite coconut milk, or chicken thighs for chicken breasts, don’t skimp on healthy oils, easy to add sweet potatoes, beans, or whole grains to amp it up
  • Stir fries/sautees – because vegetables become smaller when cooked you can add more items and again make sure you serve it with whole grains and you can also add chopped nuts quite easily.
  • Salads – this time make the base of the salad a grain (brown rice or quinoa) add some sliced veggies and some great additions to amp it up could be some beans, salmon, chopped avocado, chopped nuts/seeds (hempseeds are great and tiny), goats cheese, dried or fresh fruits, and dressings with healthy oils

So when you’re trying to gain weight, make sure the first thing you do is look at what you’re currently eating and see if there is a higher calorie (and nutrient dense) alternative.

Protein is also essential for gaining the healthy kind of weight especially when it has to do with muscle gain as well.

Gradually increase and slowly add in extra foods. If you do this all at once you may feel incredibly sick and uncomfortably full. Work on gradually increasing (the equivalent of an extra hefty snack) every 2 – 3 days or maybe every week and monitor your progress.

Gaining 10lbs in a week is not healthy weight. Ensure you’re on a steady and gradual incline and keep increasing every time you hit a plateau. Also ensure your fitness routine reflects your goal of weight gain whether it’s just weight gain in general, or if you’re trying to do hypertrophy of the muscles, your workout routines should reflect either and shouldn’t be geared at a weight loss routine.

NOTE – if this becomes a hot topic I will happily do a blog series on weight gain which will include recipes, so speak up if you want it!

Eat up! 🙂

UPDATE – It became a hot topic so please enjoy the rest of the series:

Weight Gain Wednesday – Smoothies for healthy weight gain

Weight Gain Wednesday – Healthy salads for healthy weight gain

Weight Gain Wednesday – How to decrease bloating & gas when trying to gain healthy weight

Weight Gain Wednesday – Bringing health & nutrition back to the breakfast porridge

About Sarah Maughan

Sarah Maughan is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, ON and has been consulting since 2009. Her website aims to educate you, make you laugh, help you live and inspire you to eat whole food! To stay up to date sign up for free blog and recipe updates! In the meantime, empower your body with food!
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  1. Thank you for this post! I’m 16 and have been struggling to gain weight for years. I was very ill for a while and got down to 120 when i was 13 at the time. I’m 5’10 and have been working out trying to gain muscle plus healthy weight for the past 3 years. I weigh 155 now but I would still like to gain more so this is very helpful to me. Thanks so much again!

    • Hi Taylor! I’m so glad you found this beneficial. There is a lot of information for how to gain weight in a healthy way but this is a good start. I noticed you have a gluten free site, and the information I mentioned i gluten-free so that’s extra bonus for you 🙂

  2. I am so grateful for this post. Thank you so much for taking a risk. I have struggled with weight gain my entire life. I have found that I can’t talk about trying to gain weight with a single woman. Every one always has a look in their eyes like they want to punch me, and so I stay quiet and am a complete outsider. I personally want to gain weight because I want to look and feel like a woman with hips and curves and be able to fit into my clothes. Right now I am 101 lbs and have been for about 10 years. I can never seem to get past 105, and when I don’t eat enough during the day, I’ll wake up in the morning and my body looks completely different from the day before. It’s a daily struggle for me. I would love to see more about this topic, as there is not much information out there except for bodybuilders.

    • Hi Laura! I’m glad it’s a helpful post for you! That must be so tough and I’m sorry you’ve had to live so quietly about it. Given the response already I will likely do a whole blog series on it, I feel almost socially responsible to do that given that I’m a nutritionist and I know first hand that people do actually need to gain weight too and be healthy at the same time. Would recipes help you? or more general information?

  3. Thank you for providing this post! I have been researching healthy recipes/ meal plans to for healthy weight gain for women. I just have a very high metabolism and genetics so I am trying to gain 10 lbs. Any additional information you would provide would be most appreciated. I agree, there is not enough info out there on this topic!

    • Hi Jill, You are so welcome! Due to the response here and numerous emails of gratitude I received I will be posting something every wednesday after this topic – “weight gain wednesdays” 🙂
      Hope it helps!

  4. Silvana

    Hi Sarah,
    Finally someone that speaks my language. Due to an illness and other factors my weight has plummeted big time. I’ve been told i eat too healthy?? So bizarre, but as you mentioned i want to gain weight the healthy way. I know i need to persevere because there are times when i’m so tired i can’t be bothered – and this is a trap for me. I find it difficult to calculate calories etc so recipes are a big help.

  5. Hi Silvana – thanks so much for the feedback. It sounds like you want to eat nutrient dense foods, but have lost some weight from it that you’d rather gain back. Energy dense foods to the rescue 🙂

    I’d love to keep in touch about your progress and if this information helped 🙂

  6. Christine Gisby

    Well done Sarah. I was recently diagnosed as Gluten, Dairy and Lactose intolerant at the age of 51. Not only that I had a leaky gut and also candida in the gut. The candida is what is keeping me from gaining weight as I am on a restrictive diet. My weight has plummeted drastically in the past few months so when I came across your blog I thought “YES” finally there is hope.
    I will keep an eye out for your weight gain Wednesdays and see what I can do. I am a fussy eater which hasn’t helped at all for gaining weight.

    • Thank you Christine! I know it can be challenging to have a lot of food intolerances and also embark on that new journey. It sounds like you also need to be mindful to keep weight on, and for that reason I’m happy you found my blog to be helpful! Keep me posted how things go for you.

      This series – of weight gain wednesdays – actually finished last year – but there are 5 more of these on my website that you can peak through. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

      But, like I said, I’d love to hear if these tips help you keep weight on – stay in touch 🙂

  7. Kelly

    Thank you for this post!!! Best article I’ve read on trying to gain weight holistically!


  1. Weight Gain Wednesdays – Smoothies for Healthy Weight Gain | Empower Your Body With Food - [...] few days ago I wrote a blog post about how to gain weight using healthy high caloric and nutrient dense…

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