Do you rely on dinner to get a bulk of your calories, but still find yourself struggling to eat enough calories to gain weight?
You are not alone.
With dinner being the largest meal of the day, it may seem out of the question to try to include even more calories into an already caloric-dense meal.
But it is very possible, and it’s not as hard as you may think.
Implementing the following high-calorie dinner ideas into your diet routine will not only ensure you are on track with your goals but will do so in a tasty and easy-to-prepare way.
Why You Need High-Calorie Dinners: Weight Gain + Recovery
The role of dinner is often over-emphasized for gaining weight, as a common approach is to get a majority of your calories through your dinner while eating smaller meals for breakfast and lunch.
This approach, however, is problematic for a few reasons:
- You aren’t fueling yourself properly throughout the day with smaller breakfast and lunch meals
- It’s going to be much harder to gain weight trying to eat a bulk of calories in a short period, rather than to “equalize” the meals to limit the calories you need to consume in each meal
So what should you do instead?
Here’s an example structure for a 3000-calorie day:
- Breakfast: 500 calories
- Lunch: 800 calories
- Dinner: 1400 calories
- Snacks: 300 calories
This meal blueprint allows for adequate fuel for your body in each meal, while not overdoing it with too many calories in one sitting — especially for dinner.
With this method, you aren’t relying on dinner to get most of your calories and macronutrients, but it still should be your largest meal.
Dinner plays a key role in your recovery, being the last meal of the day before you sleep, and sleep is the key to recovery.
Think of how many hours is between dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast. That’s a lot of downtime where you aren’t fueling your body, so it only makes sense to eat the most at this time: both in calories and protein.
How to Build a High-Calorie Dinner
A common mistake when trying to eat high-calorie dinners is to just eat more of what you already eat.
This approach can oftentimes leave you feeling nauseous with the large portion sizes — along with greatly decreasing your ability to stick with your goal of gaining weight.
A better solution to just consuming more is to eat the same portions, swapped with more caloric-dense alternatives.
For example, a 3-ounce serving of chicken breast is only 128 calories; swapped with chicken thighs, and you’re looking at 164 calories — all while being the same size.
The same can be said for milk, with 2% milk it’ll be 122 calories per serving of 8 ounces. Swapped with whole milk? 150 calories.
These are just 2 examples, but there are numerous other alternatives you can implement in your diet to easily add hundreds of calories into your dinner to make the weight-gaining process a whole lot easier.
The Ideal Dinner Format
A well-rounded meal should include a protein source (preferably meat or fish), a carbohydrate source, and a vegetable source.
This way, you are getting a complete meal of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, cholesterol, & fiber) as well as an attractive micronutrient intake (vitamins & minerals).
With this format, you should emphasize the carb source, as protein (while needed for muscle growth) in large amounts during one sitting will make you feel full easily. This is because protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates. (1)
Following this format with high-calorie foods will ensure you feel at best, at the same time being on track with your goals.
For example, you could eat chicken thighs, white rice, sweet potatoes, and avocado — all high-calorie healthy foods.
With the caloric-dense foods mentioned, you’ll notice how much easier it will be to reach that 1500-calorie mark for dinner.
Best of all, you can easily meal prep for days in advance by doubling or tripling your preparations and storing them in your fridge for an even easier time getting in your calories.
The Benefit of Liquid Calories
An often overlooked metric when trying to gain weight is getting extra calories in through your liquid consumption with your meals.
The amazing part about drinking calories is they don’t leave you full, thanks to the little space they take up in the stomach and the quick digestion process.
We already touched briefly on this with milk, but let’s look at other possibilities.
Say you take the 150 calories from an 8-ounce serving of whole milk, but you add a scoop of protein powder. This adds another 110-140 calories (depending on the brand) you didn’t have before; in the same amount of liquid.
Want to take it a step further? Using a mass gainer powder instead of a protein powder can get you an extra 500-1200 calories — all in liquid.
You can also DIY it and make your own mass gainer shakes or smoothies and tweak it to your liking.
To top it off, you’re also helping your macro and micronutrient intake with these drinks, adding even more benefits.
Liquid calories are an excellent way to make it easier to achieve healthy weight gain. At the very least, you should drink whole milk/coconut milk with your dinner to squeeze in some extra calories.
When making a smoothie or shake; the thicker it is, the more filling it will be since it won’t move through your digestive system as fast and will take up space.
High-Calorie Dinner Ideas For Weight Gain
Here are some amazing healthy high-calorie meals for dinner to gain weight and reach your goals:
- Baked Chicken Thighs With Sweet Potato And Vegetables
- Beef Stroganoff w/ Egg Noodles And Mushrooms
- Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs and Whole Wheat Pasta
- Grilled Steak with Potato + Vegetable
- Baked Salmon with Rice Pilaf + Asparagus
- Beef and Vegetable Kebabs with Sweet Potato Wedges
- Baked Ziti + Vegetable
- Ham and Cheese Omelet With Toast
- Turkey Chili
1. Baked Chicken Thighs With Sweet Potato And Vegetables
Packed with flavor and calories. this chicken thigh + veggie combo is a simple, but effective, way to gain weight.
The rich-tasting chicken thighs and sweet potato tied together with the zippy flavor of red onions and bell pepper make this dinner hard to stop eating.
You can also tweak the vegetables to your preferences, swapping the sweet potatoes for white potatoes, bell peppers for another pepper, red onions for white onions, etc.
This is also one of the best dinners to meal prep with, as you can easily double up on the recipe and your dinner will last throughout the week.
2. Beef Stroganoff w/ Egg Noodles And Mushrooms
Pasta is notorious for being high in calories — and swapping your traditional pasta with egg noodles will get you the high calories, but with an improved macronutrient profile.
Tying in the egg noodles with a protein source and a vegetable from the formula mentioned above, you have beef stroganoff. Beef stroganoff consists of beef contained in a creamy sauce with mushrooms over noodles.
It is also commonly served over rice, which you can opt for to easily boost your calorie intake for your dinner.
3. Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs and Whole Wheat Pasta
Here’s an excellent healthy twist on one of the most popular dishes.
Substituting whole grain pasta and turkey meatballs will yield a higher fiber and protein count, as well as being lower in saturated fats than with traditional spaghetti.
The recipe featured also ties in an assortment of herbs and spices to bring a multitude of flavors to your plate.
Noodles are one of the easiest foods to meal prep with, so why not give this idea a shot?
4. Grilled Steak with Potato + Vegetable
Steak is average when it comes to caloric value, but when cooked in vegetable oil and garlic butter, you suddenly have a high-calorie steak.
Combine that with a potato and another vegetable of choice, and you have a dinner that packs a punch when it comes to getting your calories and macronutrients in.
We can’t have a steak dinner without mentioning the flavor; the caramelized and juicy garlic taste of this steak recipe will leave you wanting more — the perfect mentality when trying to gain weight.
5. Baked Salmon with Rice Pilaf + Asparagus
Salmon is one of the higher-calorie fish on the market. Combined with a side of rice pilaf and asparagus, you have a delicious contrast between flavors.
Rice pilaf is that extra step above a traditional rice side dish: combining garlic and onion with a multitude of spices and parsley for a plate that you really can’t go wrong with.
Adding asparagus compliments the salmon and rice pilaf with flavor and vitamins K, C, and A, as well as adding calories.
Salmon, in addition to being high in protein, is also a great source of healthy fats (omega-3s).
6. Beef and Vegetable Kebabs with Sweet Potato Wedges
Kebabs are one of the easiest foods to prepare on this list — and even easier to eat.
They can be customized to fit your tastes, however, the original recipe calls for red bell peppers to be used, and you must try it before you adjust the recipe.
The sweet potatoes take the edge off of the savory taste of the kebabs in between bites, an excellent duo.
Besides the taste, if you eat both kebabs and the full sweet potato, you’re looking at 702 calories and 78 grams of protein.
And that’s if you only have 2 kebabs and a sweet potato worth of wedges; you can easily adjust the dinner portions to your liking and really rack up your calorie intake.
7. Baked Ziti + Vegetable
Traditional baked ziti is an Italian dish made by cooking ziti pasta with a multitude of cheeses and a prepared tomato sauce with beef; a delicious combination of flavor and calories!
Combine the baked ziti with a vegetable on the side of your choice, and you now have a way to add even more calories and ground your taste buds after each bite of the cheesy goodness of this Italian dish.
With its generous portion size and high-calorie count, baked ziti with vegetables is a great option for anyone looking to gain weight.
8. Ham and Cheese Omelet With Toast
Does breakfast for dinner sound appealing to you?
If so, you might want to try a ham and cheese omelet with a side of toast for your next dinner.
While being a classic recipe, it also manages the title of being one of the quickest meals to make with only 15 minutes in the kitchen for a dinner that yields 761 calories and 53 grams of protein.
And that’s just with an omelet, if you add toast on the side (recommended), you can quickly boost it into the 1,000s in calories.
Omelets are experiment-friendly in addition, meaning you can add/remove ingredients as you wish and find the perfect taste for you.
9. Turkey Chili
This turkey chili packed with veggies, turkey, and spices is the perfect addition to any cold weekday evening.
With red bell peppers, yellow onions, and sweet corn complemented with ground turkey and a delicious broth, your body will thank you with this macro-and-micronutrient-packed stew.
In just 3 cups of this recipe, you’re looking at 672 calories and 63.6 grams of protein.
The enjoyment can last a lot of meal prepping as well, with the fridge life of this recipe staying delicious for around a week.
Recommended: If these aren’t enough, checkout some more high-calorie recipes to help you gain weight.
Frequently Asked Questions
We answered some of your burning questions to better your understanding of a high-calorie dinner for gaining weight.
How can high-calorie dinners help with weight gain?
High-calorie dinners can help you with weight gain by increasing your caloric intake which is the main driver of weight gain.
Dinners can be intimidating to make high-calorie, as they are already the largest meal of the day, but you can easily add on hundreds of calories if you prioritize caloric-dense foods in your meal prep.
These are foods that will make it easier to gain weight by allowing you to eat a high-calorie diet while taking up minimal space in your stomach to make you feel less full.
What should I eat for dinner to gain weight?
To aid weight gain during dinner, you should focus on high-calorie foods in the following categories: a protein source, a carbohydrate source, and a vegetable source.
Some options for this would be red meats (like beef or pork), sweet potatoes, avocados, white rice, kidney beans, and salmon.
Having a food item for each category will ensure your micronutrient and macronutrient intake is at its best for optimal bodily function.
Emphasizing the carb source will help you add calories and gain weight because carbs are the quickest to digest, meaning you won’t stay as full and you will be able to eat more.
You should also experiment with liquid calories, as you can easily assist your weight gain because drinking your calories through liquids tends to take up less room in your stomach and are digested much quicker.
Dinner plays a key role in your daily calorie intake — being the largest meal of the day.
It’s important, however, to make sure you aren’t relying on dinner by eating a proportionate amount of your target calories and macronutrients in your other meals.
To achieve a high-calorie dinner to gain weight, you must choose wisely the foods for your protein source, carbohydrate source, and vegetable source to make sure you don’t have to eat a ton of volume just to reach your target.
You can counter this by choosing alternatives that align with your calorie goals in low-volume sizing, such as red meats instead of white meats, white rice, avocados, and pasta, as well as getting some calories through your liquid consumption with whole milk, mass gainers, smoothies, and protein shakes.
Thankfully, you don’t have to figure this all out from scratch. We listed the top 9 best high-calorie dinner ideas on the internet so you can gain weight in a delicious and easy-to-prepare way.
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Rohan Arora is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist and has been actively involved in sports and fitness for over 8 years. He now leads the team of fitness specialists and personal trainers who help people around the world with personalized workout and nutrition plans, along with providing the right information on sports supplements.