Healthy Fatty foods can be used to our advantage when we need to gain weight. Most people think that all fat is bad for us and must be avoided at all costs. However, there are many fatty foods which are rich in nutrients yet relatively low in calories and can be used to help aid in weight gain if you are underweight or trying to gain weight for fitness.
Fats experts recommend eating less
Although the science here is less clear-cut, there are two main types of fats that are not thought to be as healthy. Nutrition and public health experts generally advise either minimizing or moderating your intake of them. There are two kinds:
- Saturated fats: The guidance on saturated fat can be complicated. If you’ve ever wondered, “Is saturated fat bad?” the answer isn’t so straightforward. Old nutrition research said saturated fat was bad for your cholesterol levels and cardiovascular risk, but newer information suggests it may have a more neutral effect. While the topic is far from settled, currently the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the AHA do still recommend limiting your intake of saturated fats—found in animal products like beef, lamb, pork, butter, and cheese, as well as fried foods and baked goods—and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats whenever possible.
- Trans fats: The evidence here is more clear: Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol (the kind that helps keep blood vessels clear), per the AHA. They can also increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. The AHA advises minimizing your consumption of foods high in trans fat (like fried foods and baked goods that contain partially hydrogenated oils).
Okay, now that we know exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about healthy high-fat foods, here’s a list of deliciously fatty, nutritious foods you can add to your plate.
The scoop: One medium avocado has about about 21 grams of fat. These creamy, green sources of fat are also bursting with 9 grams of fiber in just one avocado.
Try it: You know what to do here. Avocado is excellent in so many shapes and forms, from simply sliced and eaten on toast or mashed into a zesty guacamole. These avocado recipes will show you plenty more creative ways to put this green fruit to work, including desserts (!) and pastas.
The scoop: With 21 grams of fat in a 1-oz. serving, walnuts are a fantastic source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They’re also rich in the minerals manganese and copper.
Try it: You can sprinkle chopped walnuts on a salad or bowl of cereal or oatmeal, mix them into a cake, or munch on them plain. And if you’re feeling extra crafty, try turning this nut into a tasty nut butter.
The scoop: Nuts in general are packed with fat. While it’s hard to go wrong with any kind, we’re big fans of almonds, which have 15 grams of fat in a 1-oz. serving (about 22 nuts) and are rich in vitamin E.
Try it: Raw or roasted, salted or unsalted, plain or flavored—there are a lot of great almond options at the supermarket. Enjoy a big handful on their own or in trail mix, cereal, and salads.
4. Nut and seed butters
The scoop: If you love the flavor of nuts, but not the crunch, consider nut butters. They’re creamy and spreadable, and yet full of all the same nutrients as their unblended counterpart. And that includes plenty of healthy fats! Beyond peanut butter, try almond, cashew, or sunflower seed butter for a plant-based dose of creamy fat (plus fiber and protein). For example, there are 16 grams of fat in two tablespoons of both PB and sunflower seed butter.
Try it: Spread 2 tablespoons on toast or eat it with fresh apple slices. Both options are simple, delicious, and nutritious.
The scoop: They may be small, but all of the countless varieties of olives are rich in fat and flavor. Just 1-oz. of green olives (about 14 olives) has 4 grams of fat.
Try it: Olives are awesome on pizza, pasta, and salads. But they also make a great addition to a cheese plate, along with some crackers and veggies.
6. Olive oil
The scoop: We all know the oil pressed from olives is a tremendous source of healthy fats. Just one tablespoon of the stuff, a go-to oil in many people’s kitchens, has 14 grams of fat.
Try it: Besides the obvious advice to cook pretty much anything with it, try drizzling olive oil over Greek yogurt with cracked pepper for a savory dip to eat with chips, pita, or crackers, or even in desserts like olive oil cake or ice cream. Not sure which kind to buy? Check out this olive oil buying-guide.
7. Ground flaxseed
The scoop: Flaxseed is a great source of those omega-3 fatty acids and packs about 8 grams of fat per ounce. Flaxseed also contains both insoluble and soluble fiber, which are good for feeling satiated, digestive health, stabilizing blood sugar, and regular poops, as SELF has previously reported.
Try it: Sprinkle some whole or ground flaxseed on yogurt or oatmeal, scoop a spoonful into a smoothie, or put an interesting spin on a salad with a flaxseed oil-based dressing. Heck, you can even make chocolatey energy bites with this versatile little seed.
The scoop: Oily fish like salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids—whether it’s smoked, baked, raw, or pan-seared. A cooked 3-oz. filet of Atlantic salmon has 11 grams of fat.
Try it: Eating two servings of fish a week is a great way to your fill of healthy fats, according to the AHA. Not sure how to cook with it? Try these 20 salmon recipes.
The scoop: Tuna is another type of fish that’s packed with a particularly high amount of healthy fats and omega-3s. We’re talking about both the inexpensive and conveniently canned stuff (about 5 grams in one regular can), and the kind you find at your favorite Japanese spot (about 5 grams in 3 ounces, cooked).
Try it: There are lots of ways to get this fatty fish in your diet—try seared tuna steaks, tuna burgers, tuna salad on a sandwich or bed of lettuce, or tuna casserole.
10. Dark chocolate
The scoop: A 1-oz. portion of delicious dark chocolate boasts around 11 grams of fat, plus a bonus 2 grams of fiber.
Try it: You probably don’t need any help figuring out how to enjoy this decadent treat. While you could have it with something like raspberries or mix some slivers into Greek yogurt, we’re partial to dark chocolate all on its own. (Or as a thin, delectable coating for fruit like strawberries or nuts like almonds.)
The scoop: Tofu is beloved by vegetarians and vegans alike because it’s a solid source of healthy fats and plant-based protein. (What is protein? This nutrient also contributes to feelings of fullness as well as helping your muscles heal after physical exercise.) This ingredient isn’t as high in fat as some other foods on this list, but you’ll still get roughly 4 grams of fat from a 3-oz. portion of super-firm tofu.
Try it: There are basically countless ways to incorporate this deliciousness into your life. For dinner, you can throw together something like sheet pan tofu combined with veggies and chickpeas. If you want to get creative, you could also experiment with these tofu breakfast recipes—it makes for a great scramble or smoothie base.
How to Know if a Child Needs to Gain Weight
It’s important to know whether your child is, in fact, in need of dietary modifications to increase their weight before you start trying to add calories and/or fat to their diet, so let’s start there.
Is your child meeting milestones, gaining some weight (even if not a lot), and seeming generally happy and content? Are they following their own growth curve? If the answers to those are yes, you very likely can relax about their size and continue to allow them to follow their own hunger cues.
Just because a child is in a lower percentile for growth doesn’t mean they need to be made bigger. And just because a child is larger, doesn’t mean they need to be made smaller.
Kids, like adults, can be healthy at every size.
If, on the other hand, you have a child who’s fallen off of their own growth curve for a length of time (sometimes kids fall off at one checkup and are then fine at the next, so I’d urge you not to rush into this), is going through a medical issue where they have a more limited diet, or you’re looking for nutritious ways to add more sustenance to their food—to help them stay fuller longer—these foods should help.
Food for Toddlers to Gain Weight
Here are some of the best high-calorie and high-fat foods that are great sources of nutrition too.
- Avocado Oil
- Almond Butter
- Chicken, Dark Meat
- Cheese, full fat
- Cream Cheese, full fat
- Dried Fruit
- Hemp seeds
- Flax Oil
- Milk, full fat whole milk
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Butter
- Sweet Potato
- Sour Cream, full fat
- Yogurt, full fat
How to Add Calories to Foods without Force Feeding
The thing about feeding kids is that we can’t force them to eat. (Okay, you theoretically could, but that’s not a way to raise a kiddo who trusts food or you to feed them!) So here’s how I would suggest you approach this: Aim to add these foods into regular rotation as they are, and also add some of them to foods your child already eats.
And try to avoid forcing your child to eat, but instead provide relaxed and frequent opportunities for them to eat some food—even if that means you have snacks or meals more frequently than you have been.
Here are some examples of meals and snacks with higher calories:
- Smoothie with 2 tablespoons nut butter or ¼ cup avocado or plain whole milk Greek yogurt
- Smoothie with flaxseed oil
- Smoothie with 2 tablespoons added hemp seeds
- Kids Weight Gain Shake
- Toast topped with nut butter and banana
- Toast topped with coconut butter and banana
- Toast topped with butter and avocado
- Eggs cooked in butter
- Whole milk yogurt with almond butter or cashew butter stirred in
- Mashed Roasted Sweet Potato blended with full fat coconut milk
- Pasta tossed with Pesto, peas, and cheese
- Pasta as Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- Bean and Cheese Quesadilla with sour cream and/or guacamole for dipping
- Spinach Quesadillas with cheese and cream cheese in the mix, plus sour cream and/or guacamole for dipping
- Chocolate Protein Muffins with a cup of whole milk
- Salmon cooked in olive oil with potatoes and sour cream
- Avocado Chocolate Pudding
- Stir heavy cream, mashed banana and maple syrup into oatmeal
- Ground beef cooked in olive oil or butter
- Chicken thighs in Butter Chicken
- Peanut Butter Energy Bites
TIP: You can do all of this without needing to buy special toddler formulas or protein powders, so save yourself the money!
Best Healthy Foods to Gain Weight Fast
Whole grain bread
Whole grain breads are another good carb source to help you gain weight.
You can make some very simple, high calorie, and well-balanced meals by combining bread with protein sources such as eggs, meat, and cheese.
When purchasing bread, aim for natural whole grain and seeded breads. Healthier versions, such as Ezekiel bread, are available in most grocery stores.
Sandwiches are one of the easiest, most versatile, and portable meals for helping you put on weight. Their ingredients are limited only by your imagination: meats, cheese, veggies, nut butter spreads, avocado, and more.
Try one of these sandwich recipes. You’ll find everything from the basic Reuben to healthy wraps to several imaginative takes on the timeless grilled cheese.
Sourdough bread has become increasingly popular during the pandemic period and for good reason. It’s one of the most nutritious and satisfying breads.
During the pandemic, many are learning how to make sourdough starters. Sourdough bread has just three simple ingredients: flour, water, and salt. One slice weighing 2 ounces (56 g) will give you about 160 calories.
The live good bacteria in sourdough feeds bacteria in the gut, which can strengthen your immune system
Whole grain breads can be effective in gaining weight, especially when combined with a good protein source.
Avocados are loaded with healthy fats.
Unlike other whole fruits, avocados are fairly calorie-dense and therefore a great food to help you gain weight.
Just one large avocado provides around 322 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 14 grams of fiber
Avocados are also high in vitamins, minerals, and various beneficial plant compounds.
Try adding avocados to your main meals and other dishes such as omelets or sandwiches.
One of the most popular and easiest ways of enjoying avocado is on avocado toast. Just mash up some avocado and spread it on your toast. It’s that easy!
Other delicious ways to enjoy the versatile avocado include:
- as a topping
- as a mayonnaise substitute
Avocados are full of healthy fats and nutrients. They’re versatile and can be added to many different meals or eaten on their own.
Healthy cereals can be an excellent source of carbs, calories, and nutrients.
While you should avoid processed, high sugar cereals, healthier forms, such as oatmeal cooked with whole milk, can be a great carb source to add to your diet.
You’ll get about 130 calories from a 1 cup serving of cooked oatmeal, plus the calories in any whole milk or toppings you add
Consider topping your hot oats, overnight oats, or full fat Greek yogurt with:
- dried fruit
- chia seeds
- fresh berries
- homemade granola
Grain-based cereals and oats also contain beneficial nutrients such as fiber and healthy antioxidants
When purchasing cereals, focus on these healthy choices:
- Ezekiel brand
Make sure to read the label and avoid cereals with excess added sugar. Choose those with the most fiber when possible.
Granola is a calorie-dense mixture of cereals, dried fruits, and nuts. It’s rich in protein, fiber, and micronutrients. Just one-half cup of granola can supply between 200–300 calories.
You may want to try making your own granola to avoid the added sugars in some store-bought versions.
Eating cereal can be a great way to gain weight and consume more fiber. However, stick to healthier forms such as oatmeal.
Some of the healthier cereal bars on the market can be a great high calorie snack when you’re on the go. Most bars average between 150–200 calories.
They’re also a good choice before or after a training session since they tend to contain a mix of slow- and fast-digesting carbs.
As a snack or meal on the go, try combining a cereal bar with other protein sources, such as full fat Greek yogurt, boiled eggs, cold cuts of meat, or a protein shake.
While some cereal bars are healthy, many others have added sugar, oils, salt, and preservatives that are not as desirable. You may want to try making your own bars. It’s a lot easier than you might think.
Try these recipes to make your own homemade cereal bars. Often, you’ll need only a few ingredients, and you might even have them in your pantry now.
But if you’re not handy in the kitchen, it’s possible to find healthy store-bought cereal bars. Just be sure to stick to bars made from healthy whole grains and other healthy ingredients, such as dried fruits, nuts, or seeds.
Stick to cereal bars that have whole grains and other healthy ingredients, such as dried fruit and nuts.
High quality dark chocolate provides a ton of antioxidants and health benefits.
Dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao (the seed from which chocolate is made) is said to help regulate stress hormones and blood sugar levels.
It may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, some cancers, inflammation, stress, and type 2 diabetes.
Like other high fat foods, dark chocolate has a very high calorie density, meaning it’s very easy to get many calories from it.
Each 100-gram (3.5-ounce) bar with 60–75 percent cacao solids has around 600 calories and is packed with micronutrients and health-promoting compounds, including fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants
There are many ways to enjoy dark chocolate in addition to eating it straight.
Garnish your morning cereal with it, put a few curls on top of a fruit plate, or make some steaming-hot drinking (or sipping) chocolate like the Parisians do.
You can make healthy chocolate desserts, like energy bites, no-guilt chocolate truffles, or chocolate peanut butter avocado pudding.
Supermarket aisles are crowded with many types and qualities of dark chocolate. Be sure to choose a high quality one with at least 70 percent cacao.
Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients, along with plenty of calories to help you gain weight.