Foods for Healthy Weight Gain

Ask the Nutritionist

Q: I'm 15 years old and about 5 feet, 8 inches. I weigh about 97 lbs. I'm tall for my age and I'm also very skinny. I don't feel comfortable with myself and I feel really awkward when I'm around other girls. I would like a diet plan to gain weight healthily.

A: There are a number of reasons why people experience changes in metabolism or problems with weight gain. It's common during cancer treatment or adolescence and at times of growth and development. And it can be frustrating when you have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. If you're a cancer patient, it's crucial that you eat enough calories to prevent weight loss during treatment, to promote a fast recovery, and to fuel growth and development. Patients can accomplish this by eating calorie-dense and nutrient-rich foods.

Here are some healthy foods you can eat to increase calories and gain weight:

  • Incorporating nuts and seeds into your diet is a heart healthy way to increase calories and aim for weight gain. Try adding walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, etc. to baked goods, breads, cereal, pancakes, salads, and ice cream or yogurts. (1/4 cup serving = 170 calories)
  • Trail mix or granola bars, or dried fruits such as cranberries or raisins, are a calorie-dense option that can be eaten as a snack or added to cereals and yogurts. (1/4 cup serving/bar = 120 calories)
  • Eggs can make a simple meal. Add chopped hardboiled eggs to salads, dressings, and casseroles, or beat eggs into sauces, custards, and baked goods. (1 large egg = 90 calories)
  • Olive and canola oil can be mixed into sauces, used as salad dressing, and added to yogurt frappes or smoothies as a great calorie boost that contains essential fatty acids that your body needs. You can also use oil to cook when stir-frying vegetables. (1 tbsp = 120 calories)
  • Try adding beans to soups, salads, or entrees.
  • Spread peanut butter on whole grain bread or eat it with bananas or apples for a healthy snack (2 tablespoons = 190 calories)
  • Add cheese, bean spreads or hummus to vegetables (1 oz. or 1/8 cup cheese = 100 calories; 1/4 cup hummus/bean spread = 100 calories)

Here are some strategies you can try for healthy weight gain:

  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks every couple of hours throughout the day.
  • Use small plates for meals, as opposed to full-size dinner plates.
  • Try not to snack too close to meal times to avoid feelings of fullness.
  • Try to eat your favorite foods more often.
  • Limit fluids to a minimum at meals but make sure to drink between meals.
  • Keep high-calorie snacks on hand at your house and bring these snacks with you when on the go.
  • Drink high-calorie fluids or 100% juices (orange juice, blueberry juice, V8, cranberry juice, milk) or a commercial nutritional supplement such as Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, or Boost.

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  • Ask the Nutritionist

    • Do you have questions about making healthy food choices during and after cancer treatment? Our team of nutrition experts can help. Submit your question through our Ask the Nutritionist form.
    • To create a customized plan, please schedule an appointment with a Dana-Farber nutritionist by calling 617-632-3006.
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