Foods That Pack a Punch
Foods highest in calories and nutrients are foods with fats, especially plant fats. Plant fats such as nuts, peanuts, seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, avocados, hummus, and oils are great sources of healthy fats loaded with nutrients and calories.
"First choose plant fats and smaller amounts of lower-fat dairy and lean meat animal fats, so your weight gain efforts don't increase risk of heart disease," Bender says.
"If you have a normal cholesterol level, you can enjoy extra calories by choosing full-fat dairy products," Escott-Stump says. For instance, pair cheese with fruit and whole-grain crackers for a boost of protein, calories, calcium, and vitamin D.
Drink high-calorie juices instead of water and choose high-calorie condiments such as mayonnaise, ranch, thousand island, and Caesar salad dressings, Rosenbloom suggests.
Meal replacement drinks and smoothies are very convenient. To pump up their calories, add fruits, powdered milk, or soft silken tofu, Bender says.
Eat nuts by the handful or sprinkle them on top of soups, salads, cereal, desserts, and casseroles for added protein, fiber, healthy fat, and calories. Granola, loaded with nuts and dried fruits, is a concentrated source of nutritious calories, especially when eaten with full-fat Greek-style yogurt, which is higher in protein.
Dried fruits are a concentrated source of calories that can be tossed on salads, yogurts, cereals, desserts, and trail mixes -- or eaten alone.
Potatoes are a great vehicle for toppings. Or, when you cook potatoes, add in flavored oils, milk, cheese, chili, vegetables, and beans.
Fried foods are fine on occasion, but "a better choice than deep-fried foods would be stir-fried foods in healthy oils," Bender says.
Another easy way to add calories is to drizzle olive or canola oil on vegetables, salads, whole grains, soups, casseroles, and stews.
Looking for fast food options? Rosenbloom gives a nod to plain cheese pizza, and sub sandwiches made with lean meat.