Help me gain weight in a healthy/cheap manner
January 2, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Please help me in my goal, which is to gain weight in a healthy way, and to do so as cheaply as possible.

I am a 30ish male who is starting to exercise strenuously and I need to gain weight. I am thin because I have a high metabolism; in addition, though, I simply don’t often have a huge appetite and I tend not to make large meals for myself. I don’t like to eat out if I can help it (expensive and unhealthy). I usually eat what is around the house and snack throughout the day (work from home). I don’t eat a lot of sweets and I don’t want to start. I’m okay with eating fatty foods if that is healthy for me.

So here is where I need help: I’d like to eat more calories throughout the day with the goal of gaining weight, but I’d like to do so with two caveats in mind: I want the food I eat to be (reasonably) healthy and (definitely) cheap. This mostly rules out things like cookies, ice cream, bags of potato chips and other classic snack foods for being too unhealthy, and it also mostly rules out things like nuts, fish, organic meats, exotic fruits, and cheese for being too expensive. On top of that, I am allergic to avocados and peanuts (but not other kinds of nuts).

My question is: what are some foods or recipes that include cheap ingredients that I could eat in large amounts, with the intention of gaining weight? Bonus points for recipes that either produce large amounts of food that I can save as leftovers, or that are easy and quick to make. Thanks for any and all suggestions.
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You're going to want to start eating lots of tuna sandwiches.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 7:41 AM on January 2, 2012

You could snack on raw veggies during the day. This is a healthy way to do it, and they won't fill you up.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:43 AM on January 2, 2012

High-protein/calorie smoothies are a good way to gain weight. There is a list of guidelines here for creating them and the ingredients aren't too far out. The whey powders can be purchased at big-box retailers and will go a long way.
posted by jquinby at 7:44 AM on January 2, 2012

The internet go-to for this question is GOMAD, gallon-of-milk-a-day. But it kind of depends on what you're eating normally. Are you already getting ~1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight? If you're eating enough meat to get your protein, you could add rice and/or beans to up the calories inexpensively.
posted by Durin's Bane at 7:45 AM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lentils are cheap, they have fibre & protein, easy to cook. Quinoa is fairly cheap (can be found in Goya bulk bags sometimes by me, but unfortunately, it comes more often in the organic chi-chi section), and is high in protein and has some good fat. If you cook it in some sort of stock, and add bay leaves and garlic, it is very easy to cook.
posted by kellyblah at 7:45 AM on January 2, 2012

Do you/can you drink milk? Start drinking whole milk. A lot of it.
posted by phunniemee at 7:46 AM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Add olive oil to your meals. Whole milk works too.
posted by alligatorman at 7:47 AM on January 2, 2012

Drizzle some healthy oils over everything you eat. Go full fat everything. Start the day by preparing a bunch of snacks and meals for you to eat throughout the day and remind yourself to have those snacks. Set a reminder on your computer if you have to. You know all those dips people like to eat with their healthy vegetable snacks that prevent them from losing weight, like hummus and such? Be sure to have them. Make your own, chick peas are cheap. The goal is to increase your overall calorie intake without starting to eat junk food. And the easiest way to do it is to add extra calories to your normal meals.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:54 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may want to look at resources aimed at athletes; Runners World used to have great threads on this, and I'm sure other training programs do as well. There are also a lot of resources for gaining weight that are designed around those with disordered eating or eating disorders-- obviously that doesn't apply to you, but the recipes and grocery lists would surely be of help! I agree with adding more olive oil (buy in bulk, the large tins are great) and whole milk. Lentils are great for protein but they are really filling, so keep in mind that you might want to pair them with other smaller meals to fit in more calories. Buy nuts in bulk; make your own trail mix, granola, and nut butters. If you have a trader joe's or co-op style store, their prices on bulk items will be better. Olive oil (and other oils) make great additions to baked goods; you can make less sweet and savory whole wheat muffins to pack, like grated cheese and spinach, or ham and spinach (if you're up for meat.) You can also do egg dishes (use the whole egg) in batches, either like a frittata/Spanish-style with potatoes and olive oil, or in muffin tins as well. Have fun!
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:57 AM on January 2, 2012

Almond butter and avocados aren't cheap, but you'll get a lot of bang for your buck, and they're healthy "good" fats.

Be generous with the olive oil. Creamy cheeses and whole milk, if you're OK with dairy, oily fish (sardines, tinned smoked oysters in oil, tuna, etc.), tahini, handfuls of nuts, etc.

I've actually accidentally LOST weight on diets heavy in lentils, vegetable-rich soups, etc., because they feel much more filling than they actually are, calorie wise, so be mindful of that.
posted by availablelight at 8:04 AM on January 2, 2012

P.S. if you can get to a Costco or BJ's or similar, items like almond butter, quinoa, avocados, nuts, etc. will be MUCH cheaper there, thanks to bulk packaging and immense buying power.
posted by availablelight at 8:13 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cans of coconut milk have a huge amount of calories and are relatively cheap. I like to make rice using coconut milk instead of water. It's very rich and calorically intensive. Also, coconut milk is pretty healthy too.
posted by permiechickie at 8:24 AM on January 2, 2012

I would say peanut butter, but then I noticed the allergy -

so my advice would be high fat stuff in general, along with high protien. Fats aren't bad for you when your body needs that much energy - whole fat milk, cheese (more expensive that PB but not that much), canola and olive oil (the first is cheaper, the latter tastier).
posted by jb at 8:40 AM on January 2, 2012

Why do you want to gain weight? What are you hoping to "gain" out of it? (besides weight) Are you unhealthy now at your current weight?

If you're not a hungry person, perhaps you are getting the amount of calories that you need. If, as you work out, you get hungrier, take that as a sign.

There are plenty of ways to gain weight unhealthfully. Just add a lot of fat into your diet. Especially dairy and meat. Current scientific research indicates that a low-fat vegan diet is most healthy. Additionally, the typical person only needs only 0.8 grams of protein per KG of bodywieght a day. Here's an article debunking that you need to eat a ton of protein if you're weight training.
posted by reddot at 8:42 AM on January 2, 2012

SunButter. No peanuts involved. Buy in bulk at places like Costco or online. 2 tablespoons = 200 calories.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:53 AM on January 2, 2012

If you are starting weight-training you want to increase your protein to at least 1g/lbs bodyweight. From the article reddot linked, the NIH is an excellent source for disease-related info but falls woefully short in recommendations in the exercise science department). All of the lifters I know benefit from increased protein intake.

Whey protein tends to be incredibly cheap for the dollar per gram of protein cost, but per calorie it is less so. It is a great way to supplement protein if you can swing it.

Otherwise, eggs are quite cheap in protein and calories, so start eating a lot of them. If you don't have a family history of high cholesterol and aren't obese or eating a high-sugar diet then the connections between dietary cholesterol and increased cholesterol levels are still very much up in the air. Frittatas are a fantastic way of making multiple servings of a cheap breakfast meal. They're essentially big baked omelettes and can be made with an infinite combination of eggs + other stuff.

Eat a lot of dark meat chicken with the skin--plenty of extra fat and the cheapest meat per pound out there.

Go heavy with the olive oil on your foods. Very desperate weight-gainers I know have resorted to taking shots of it. It is one of the more expensive fats but still cheap per calorie compared to other foods.

Stews and chilis are probably your best bets here. Incorporate plenty of meat and beans and they'll be high in calories per serving.

Whole milk is an excellent option, but may be out of your price range depending on the area of the world you're in.
posted by schroedinger at 9:22 AM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Almond Butter and Jelly on Wheat bread.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Whole Milk.

Start by tracking what you're eating now. Add 300 calories a day on top of that existing weekly average. If you aren't gaining weight then add another 300 calories a day. It's pretty simple, safe, and effective.

Here's an article debunking that you need to eat a ton of protein if you're weight training.
Just wanted to say that the article doesn't debunk anything, especially not with high activity people and or weight lifters. The rest of the comment is just as meh.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:34 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

"There are plenty of ways to gain weight unhealthfully."

This is correct.

"Just add a lot of fat into your diet. Especially dairy and meat. Current scientific research indicates that a low-fat vegan diet is most healthy.
Additionally, the typical person only needs only 0.8 grams of protein per KG of bodywieght a day. Here's an article debunking that you need to eat a ton of protein if you're weight training.
posted by reddot at 8:42 AM on January 2"

This is incorrect. I cut a lot out of the para because on further reading I'm not really sure what you're even recommending.

A simple way to do this is to treat it like any diet: If you're skinny and you're exercising a lot, figure out your BMR and then daily caloric needs, then eat 1000 - 1500 cal above maintenance, making sure to get 1g protein per pound of GOAL body weight, plenty of fat, and complex carbs. Sweet potatoes are your friend. Maybe a macro split of 40p/40f/20c? It does you no good to put on 30 pounds if it's all bodyfat.

Track your eating, your goals, adjust as necessary. Just like a cutting diet in reverse. As much as I hate the posters there sometimes, the forums at have a ton of people looking to gain weight just like you.
posted by a_girl_irl at 9:36 AM on January 2, 2012

A fellow skinny svelte person here.

Beware the milk, I stopped drinking it in early college because I was super broke and as much as I love the flavor and texture of whole milk, it does something to my guts now that makes it decidedly hard to gain weight, if you catch my drift. Also, per calorie, milk is pretty expensive.

Things that have worked for me to maintain weight - bean salads for snacking, add cheese, sour cream and/or mayo to everything. Mayo based dips can be good. You can make your own spinach artichoke dip for pretty cheap with frozen artichokes. I think I use an Alton Brown recipe for mine, though I use less mayo and more cream cheese.

Snacking on veggies like carrots or zuchinni involves dredging them through blue cheese dressing, which I buy at Publix only when it's BOGO. When dressing is in short supply, peanut butter is nice (for carrots, not so much for zuchinni, ymmv). Substitute other nut butters so you don't die.

Pastas and sauces I get when they're on sale, and then I mix shredded cheese into my pasta with abandon. Lasagnes can be made in bulk for fairly little money. Same with enormous cuts of meat, make yourself pulled pork sandwiches, etc. Ground beef can be hidden in lots of things as well.

Carry mixes of dried fruits and nuts, GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) is popular among hikers for reason, it's very nutrient and calorie dense, so swap the peanuts for pecans or almonds or walnuts or again, whatever nuts you find on sale.

Batch marinate and cook your own chicken breasts (or thighs, I prefer dark meat myself, but most people like white meat. whatever blows your skirt up.) and then freeze them in individual baggies. Or just snack on them all week. Slice them up and add to salads, dice them up and toss into tacos.

If you enjoy sandwiches, hummus can be a good sneaky calorie spread.

As a general rule, buying in bulk is your friend, but check the unit prices of everything.

Additionally, I find that if I stop eating as soon as I'm satisfied, that's a recipe for weight loss, but if I go a few bites beyond (not quite to uncomfortable, just past "enough") I maintain. For gaining weight, I have always had to eat myself past the point of comfort.
posted by bilabial at 10:34 AM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you are trying to gain muscle weight then I'd check out lifting forums, etc. I'm a (female) string-bean with a super-high metabolism and I've tried pretty much everything mentioned above ... the only thing that actually caused me to gain weight was a medication I was taking and I promptly lost the weight once I was off of it.

So if you figure this one out, I'd be interested. I eventually concluded that some people just can't gain weight and/or that the amount of time I was spending trying to do so was depressing me.
posted by sm1tten at 11:17 AM on January 2, 2012

Whey protein made with whole milk. Oatmeal. Sweet potatoes.

Also, it should go without saying that if you want to add healthy weight (ie, lean body mass), you will be well served to be doing strength training.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:23 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was in your shoes, I started making huge quantities of chili every week. You can freeze it in individual tupperware containers and thaw as needed.

You can also cook large quantities of pasta at a time and keep it in individual freezer bags in the fridge. Here's what you do:

1) Cook the pasta. Strain it.
2) Run it under cold water until it's all cold.
3) Put it in bags and seal. Refrigerate.

It'll keep for 5 days or so. To eat it, just throw it in some boiling water for 30 seconds. (I learned this while working at Pizza Hut, btw. You didn't think they made their pasta fresh, did you?)

Also, if you're interested in a cheap protein supplement, the cheapest I've found is this (much cheaper than a can of tuna).
posted by coolguymichael at 11:48 AM on January 2, 2012

I would have thought that just eating loads of hi Carb foods during the day would help. Is Pasta, Potatoes and Rice are all really cheap, reasonably healthy and if you eat a lot of them then you'd be consuming extra calories.

they are also very easy to cook.
posted by mary8nne at 12:40 PM on January 2, 2012

If you're a super skinny guy, it's whey protein all over the place if you're serious. If you're like my buddy, even then you're going to have to hope for the best.
posted by rhizome at 1:24 PM on January 2, 2012

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