Resorting to cheap dollar-menu fast food and large bags of sale-priced chips might be tempting when you're trying to gain weight on a budget. After all, these are a cheap source of calories -- and a surplus of calories leads to weight gain. But, when you resort to low-quality foods without a lot of nutrition, you don't gain weight in the healthiest way possible. Padding your diet with nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, proteins and dairy is the best way to provide more calories, but even on sale some of these items can be pricey. If you shop the bulk bins, stick to staples and sacrifice a little convenience, though, you can find healthy foods that provide an array of nutrients even on a budget.
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Calorie Surplus for Weight Gain
Gain just 1/2 to 1 pound per week to ensure you're putting on mostly muscle, rather than a lot of excess body fat, which requires just 250 to 500 extra calories per day. You can add this without spending tons of cash.
Make some of these extra calories come from protein. This macronutrient supports efforts to lay down muscle at the gym. Go for about 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, and if you're strength training, aim for around 0.7 grams per pound of body weight. This means a 160-pound person needs 88 to 112 grams of protein per day to encourage weight gain through muscle growth, along with a consistent weight-training routine.
Choosing Cheap Dry Goods for Weight Gain
You don't have to break the bank on fancy mixed nuts, quinoa and protein supplement powders to achieve your goals. A 16-ounce jar of peanut butter contains 32 tablespoons, each containing 95 calories, and costs very little. It's full of healthy fats and a quality source of protein -- about 7 grams per 2-tablespoon serving. Spread it on toast in the morning, mix it into oatmeal, make a sandwich on whole-wheat bread for a snack, or spread a spoonful on a banana. Trail mix or whole sunflower seeds are other cheap eats with loads of calories.
Dry whole milk powder, with 159 calories per 1/4 cup, is a cheap way to add calories and 8.4 grams of protein to liquid milk, creamy soup or mashed potatoes. Brown rice, with 216 calories per cup, may be purchased in bulk for pennies per serving to inflate meal size and calorie content.
Shop the Frozen Aisle
Starchy vegetables tend to have more calories than watery, fibrous varieties, such as lettuce and cucumbers. Shop for frozen corn, peas and succotash as side dishes or to mix in brown rice. Frozen versions are usually much less pricey than fresh from the farm and can be stirred into soup, casseroles or served topped with cheese. One cup of microwaved frozen corn contains 185 calories, while a cup of peas contains 85. Open a budget can of mashed sweet potatoes, without added sugar, for a cup serving with 258 calories.
Frozen fruits are generally less expensive than fresh also, especially when it comes to berries and cherries. Choose unsweetened versions to cook into oatmeal, made with milk, or to toss into a smoothie made with yogurt that you purchased on sale.
Smart Shopping Tips to Save Money
Whole-grain, thick breads such as pumpernickel and whole wheat provide more nutrients and calories than flimsy white varieties. Many stores put day-old bread on substantial markdown; you can freeze it to use for sandwiches and toast during the week.
Buy bricks of cheese, rather than pre-shredded cheese, which comes at a premium because of the added work involved to prep and package it. One ounce sprinkled over chili, melted on toast or added to a sandwich equals 114 extra calories.
Eggs and whole chickens, or less-prized chicken parts like the legs and wings, are inexpensive sources of protein. Scramble eggs into an omelet at breakfast or enjoy hard-boiled eggs for a snack; one whole egg provides about 80 calories. Roast a whole chicken, which costs less per pound than boneless, skinless breasts, for 234 calories per cup of the meat.
Soak beans, such as black or pinto, from their dry state to make, a chunky chili. One cup of prepared black beans, for example, contains 227 calories. Beans are a quality source of protein and much less expensive than most meats, fish or poultry.