“High Calorie Soft Foods for Weight Gain” was written by Cole Theobald. Edited/reviewed by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Cole is a freelance writer and dietetic intern at Oregon Health Sciences University.
Why High Calorie Soft Foods?
Weight is an important aspect of health in all populations, especially in older adults. Furthermore, in lean or underweight elderly people, it is important to stop unintended weight loss.
This is because there are multiple risk factors that increase when weight is lost in the elderly. When weight is lost, usually it includes muscle mass in addition to fat mass, so there is an increased risk for injury. There is also a decreased ability to perform the activities of daily living.
Additionally, as we age, our dental health may start to decline. Dry mouth, mouth sores, lost teeth, dentures, all of these conditions can make it difficult to eat a normal diet. That is why for some older adults with oral health issues we recommend a diet of soft foods for easier eating.
High Calorie Foods to Gain Weight
Eating high calorie and high protein foods are important factors for weight gain in older adults.
Without high calorie foods, there is the chance that someone might fill up before hitting an appropriate number of calories. Additionally, without a high enough protein content, an older adult might not be able to build adequate muscle.
Older adults are recommended to eat 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. For a 150lb adult, that means an intake of 68 to 82 grams of protein per day.
This might not seem too difficult, but it can be hard to come up with high protein options on a soft food diet.
For more information about the importance of calorie dense foods for weight gain, click here!
High Calorie Soft Foods for Oral Health Issues
Soft foods make sense to eat when you have oral health issues. Trying to eat something like a steak while having difficulty chewing is daunting enough that many won’t make the attempt.
The combination of beginning a soft food diet and the necessity of weight gain can be difficult to manage for many adults and caregivers.
The purpose of this article is to give some possible ideas for higher calorie options to help an older adult keep on or gain weight with a soft food diet.
Best High Calorie Soft Foods
Without further ado, here is our list high calorie soft foods for weight gain.
- Avocados are a soft, easy to eat, neutral tasting food that can be easily eaten as is or dressed up with your favorite flavors.
- Guacamole is a classic, but have you tried chocolate avocado mousse? Avocado tuna salad? With such a versatile food, you could put it in anything.
- Avocados are also high in monounsaturated fats, fiber, and many vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants.
- Just 100 grams of avocado provides 160 calories, and if you choose to dress it up with other food, you can pump the calories even higher.
- Nut butters, like peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini spread, are great soft food options to increase the calories in a meal.
- Although, in their natural state, nut butters can be thick and sticky, they can be thinned out or added to other, softer food recipes for a boost in calories and in flavor.
- Nut butters are rich in healthy fats and proteins, in addition to many vitamins and minerals.
- Two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter contains nearly 200 calories, great for a high cal soft food diet.
- Fish are great protein options for people who have difficulty chewing foods.
- The proteins in fish are naturally softer and flakier than the protein in meats and poultry.
- Another important benefit of fish is their abundance of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These acids have been associated with anti-inflammatory properties, and are beneficial for everyone to eat more of, not just older adults.
- When looking for fish, choose softer, more tender fish like salmon or trout. Cooking with butter will add more calories.
- Most dairy products that aren’t hard cheeses are perfect for soft food diets in the elderly as they are rich in calcium, protein, and (most importantly) calories.
- Soft dairy includes anything drinkable like milk, cream, and yogurts, as well as easily spreadable dairy products like cream cheese or brie.
- A good rule of thumb is, if you can spoon it up, it’s probably soft enough.
- Opt for higher fat varieties when available, as this is a good way to increase calorie content of dairy products even further. For example, skim milk has 80 calories while whole milk has nearly twice that at 150.
- For a list of high protein shake recipes, click here!
- Soups, generally speaking, are good for soft food diets. So long as it does not contain any large chunks of harder foods to chew like stew beef, an older adult with oral health issues can easily eat soups and some stews that are filled with highly softened vegetables.
- Broth based soups, while delicious, can be lower in calories than some pureed soups or cream-based soups.
- ½ cup of heavy cream contains over 400 calories compared to approximately 10 calories in the same amount of chicken broth.
- Try soaking breads in soup until completely softened for a new texture in the meal and more added calories.
- Fruit purees are a good way to incorporate carbohydrates into seniors’ diets. Of course, there are the classics, like applesauce, but things like jams and jellies are good options as well.
- Smoothies are another good fruit puree option that you could add many extra calories to.
- Basically all fruits can be good options for mashing, pureeing, or tossing in a smoothie. They are high in vitamins and minerals, fibers, and antioxidants, as well as having high calories from sugars.
- For a list of other pureed foods good for older adults, click here!
- Eggs can be another good, high-protein soft food option when prepared in the right ways.
- Avoid fried or hard-boiled eggs because these require more active chewing to properly eat.
- Instead, opt for softer scrambled eggs or even soft-boiled eggs.
- Just make sure that the eggs are cooked all the way through to minimize the risk of food-borne illnesses.
- Canned foods like fruits, vegetables, and prepared meals can be healthy options for soft foods.
- The process of canning can influence the texture of food, oftentimes making them softer and easier to eat without chewing.
- One thing to watch out for with canned foods is increased amounts of sugars in fruits and sodium in most other canned goods.
- Look for fruit canned with light syrup or in water and look for reduced or no sodium versions of vegetables or prepared foods.
- Something like rice or quinoa might be difficult for someone to eat without chewing, but by cooking starches like these for longer and with more water, they can soften up a lot more.
- Make these starches more calorie dense and flavorful by cooking them with extra butter or with milk instead of water.
- You could also go the sweet route and make something like rice pudding.
- To finish out the day, what could be better than a sweet treat!
- Some things like cookies or cakes aren’t soft enough to enjoy, but things like ice cream, crustless pies or tarts, and mousse are all great soft food options.
- Dessert foods are generally high in sugars and fats. While this does make them high calorie options for increasing energy intake, you do have to be careful to consume in moderation to avoid any adverse health effects.
High Calorie Soft Meals
Let’s pull these high calorie soft foods ideas together to see what meals may look like.
High Calorie Soft Breakfast
Breakfasts usually contain softened or otherwise easy to eat foods like eggs, yogurts, and oatmeal. Avoiding items like toast, chewy meats, and cereal can create some challenges, but nothing insurmountable.
Here are a few soft breakfast ideas:
- Fortified oatmeal
- Fortified foods are foods that have additional nutritional value on top of what is normal.
- For example, orange juice is fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
- Similarly, foods can be fortified with calories.
- Cooking foods (like oatmeal) with milk instead of water is one possibility for fortifying a food with calories. For a recipe for fortified oatmeal, click here!
- Sweet breakfast options
- Popular sweet breakfast foods like pancakes or waffles can be difficult to eat on a soft food diet, but like most bread products, they can be softened.
- By using extra butter and syrup, these options are much easier to eat while packing extra calories.
- Other options like parfaits, crepes, or porridges are already soft enough, with small enough bits to eat without chewing.
- These foods are perfect for fortification, using heavier creams or yogurts in the recipe.
High Calorie Soft Lunch
As we move towards lunch, foods tend to start getting harder and crunchier. Sandwiches and green salads are generally a no-go for soft food diets, so where do you go from there?
Here are two ideas for soft lunches:
- Soft eggs benedict
- Technically a brunch food (which definitely counts), eggs benedict is in theory a good soft food option, were it not for the slab of Canadian bacon and toasted English muffin under the eggs. Replacement is the name of the game here.
- Instead of Canadian bacon, one possibility would be to very finely dice or grind ham to make it easier to eat without chewing. Instead of a toasted English muffin, try a softer, starchier food like overcooked rice, bulgur wheat, or oatmeal.
- The poached eggs and hollandaise need no replacement, they are soft enough as is.
- Tuna salad
- Salads that don’t contain tough vegetables like greens are usually easy to eat without chewing. Things like potato salad, Jell-o salad, and possibly some pasta salads are soft options that can easily be eaten without chewing.
- Tuna salad is the highest protein option here. Soft enough to eat without difficulty, yet hearty enough to cut it as a meal, and pretty healthy to boot.
- You can bump up the calories by adding finely diced avocado to the mix, using full fat mayonnaise, and opting for tuna packed in oil as opposed to water.
High Calorie Soft Dinner
The last meal of the day is traditionally the biggest, heartiest, and, as such, the most calorific. While sides are usually soft enough, cuts of meat, pizzas, and many casseroles are too tough and require too much chewing.
Here are a few dinner ideas that are soft enough to be eaten:
- Chowders of all kinds
- Cream based soups, as we now know, are high calorie options that can be considered meals in and of themselves.
- Bisques, cheese soups, and purees like squash soup, as well as cream of “blank” soups are all good options, but, in my opinion, chowder is king.
- Chowders are cream based soups thickened with a roux and bacon grease which helps pump up the calories. Additionally, a chowder can be whatever you want it to be.
- Corn chowder, potato chowder, and seafood chowder are all unique options that are different enough from each other to not get boring over time.
- Mac ‘n’ cheese
- Comfort foods are important culturally. Generally high in calories from fats or sugars, these comfort foods make us feel good when we eat them.
- A fair few traditional southern comfort foods are soft enough as is, but some do need a little modification to be enjoyed on a soft food diet.
- Mac ‘n’ cheese can be very easily translated to a soft food diet by greatly overcooking the pasta.
- Homemade varieties, especially those that get baked, are usually higher calorie than the box version because they use heavy creams and melted cheeses as opposed to cheese powders mixed with milk.
High Calorie Soft Snack Ideas
Now let’s look at some easy, high calorie soft snack ideas.
Smoothies and shakes are good options for soft snacks to get someone from one meal to the next. They’re also very easy to boost with calories by adding fuller fat milks, chia seeds, flax oil, nut butters, or protein powders.
For an in-depth guide to making high calorie smoothies, click here!
High Protein Soft Snacks
Snacks can be tough to introduce protein to generally, let alone when trying to follow a soft food diet. Of course, leftovers from meals are always an option, but for something small to get you through the day, the pickings are sort of slim.
Something like a spoonful of peanut butter can be a solid, lasting option. Dairy products can be good as well: cottage cheese is easy to snack on, as are soft-fresh cheeses like ricotta or cream cheese.
Supplemental Nutrition Drinks
One last option is supplemental nutrition drinks. Found in the grocery store in the supplement aisle, these drinks deliver a little bit of everything: fats, carbs, protein, fiber, and all kinds of vitamins and minerals.
You can find some premade nutrition drinks here.
They are good for those who cannot stand to eat enough calories in their diets, but as a rule of thumb, food is always preferable.
Tips for Improving Oral Health
Oral health is an ongoing and ever-evolving process, and just like all other aspects of health, it can be improved. Aside from maintaining an adequate diet, what can someone do to make their oral health better?
Improving Dry Mouth
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a condition where the body doesn’t make enough saliva to lubricate the mouth. In older adults it is most often a side effect caused by medications. Oftentimes an elderly person will be taking multiple pills that can cause dry mouth.
For those with other oral difficulties, chewing gum is not an option for addressing dry mouth. Sipping water throughout the day is good to keep the oral cavity moist and lubricated, as are over-the-counter saliva substitutes.
Saliva isn’t just water though, it also aids in digestion, helps to keep oral bacteria in check, and contains mucus to help food down the esophagus. Without all the extra benefits of saliva, it is important to keep up with proper oral hygiene.
Work with your healthcare team if you are having issues with dry mouth.
Proper Oral Hygiene
Brushing your teeth after every meal is a good idea for people with oral health issues. One other option, if brushing is too painful or difficult, would be to use fluoridated rinsing solutions. It is usually helpful to use mouthwashes specifically designed for dry mouth.
Water picks are another option for getting your teeth clean if a tooth brush hurts.
Beginning and maintaining an oral health routine can also be helpful, as incorporating the activities into the day as a whole can help with adherence. Keeping up with the routine can improve oral health related to infections as well.
Work with your dentist to figure out the best routine for you.
It is always a good idea to get an expert opinion, and who could be more expert with oral health than a dentist? The ideal is to get two visits in per year, but of course, one is better than none!
For more information on oral health for seniors, click here!
High Calorie Soft Foods Summary
Oral health is an issue that many seniors face which only compounds with the need for weight maintenance or weight gain, especially when they are asked to take on a soft food diet.
Finding soft foods that are also high in calories and protein can be difficult, but it is important for the overall health of the older adult.