While a 2,000-calorie diet likely won't be enough for weight gain if you're young or very active, it can allow you to eat enough extra calories for safe weight gain if you're older, a woman, or you live a relatively inactive lifestyle. Even though any calories count toward a calorie surplus -- which is the key to weight gain -- you'll get the most benefits by getting your 2,000 calories from healthy foods. Spread your calorie intake out throughout the day by eating snacks to get your required 2,000-calories more easily.
Breakdown of a 2,000-Calorie Plan
Follow a balanced diet that meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations to gain weight the healthy way. In a 2,000-calorie diet, that means eating the equivalent of 6 ounces of grains each day, 2.5 cups of veggies, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy, and 5.5 ounces of protein-rich foods. Spread your food out over five meals -- three slightly larger: breakfast, lunch and dinner -- and two smaller snacks.
Start your day with a hearty breakfast. Try "PB&J oats" -- a cup of cooked oatmeal topped with a cup of pitted cherries and a tablespoon of peanut butter -- with a glass of milk served on the side. Or make a weight gain-friendly breakfast parfait made with 1 cup of yogurt, a cup of sliced strawberries, a cup of cooked quinoa porridge -- quinoa grains cooked in milk. Place alternating thin layers of yogurt, fruit and porridge; then top it off with a half-ounce of chopped walnuts and sprinkling of cinnamon for added flavor. Alternatively, serve two 5-inch buckwheat pancakes topped with cinnamon, a cup of fresh raspberries and 1.5 ounces of ricotta cheese, with a hard-boiled egg served on the side.
Lunches and Dinners for Weight Gain
Fill lunches and dinners with fresh produce, wholesome proteins and healthy fats to gain weight the healthy way.
For lunch, try a turkey avocado sandwich made from whole-grain bread, 2 ounces of turkey and half a pureed avocado, with a leafy green salad made with 2 cups of greens on the side. Or opt for two 6-inch tortillas stuffed with 2 ounces of grilled salmon chunks, a cup of chopped spinach and a half-cup of other veggies -- like carrots or red pepper -- and half a chopped avocado. Serve cup of berries or a piece of fruit on the side, and finish your meal with a glass of nonfat milk.
At dinner, enjoy 1 1/2 cups of vegetables, lightly coated in olive oil and seasoned with herbs and spices, such as lemon zest and black pepper, or rosemary and sage for added flavor. Make your meal filling with a cup of brown rice, quinoa or whole-wheat pasta; then top your meal with 2.5 ounces of healthy protein, like salmon, chicken, turkey or lean beef. For example, you should serve a chicken and vegetable stir-fry on a bed of rice, make your own tomato sauce using vegetables and 97 percent lean ground beef to serve over whole-grain spaghetti, or make a quinoa-veggie grain salad that pairs well with grilled salmon.
Snack Suggestions and Discretionary Calories
Snacking doesn't have to be complicated; a serving of string cheese or a cup of yogurt help complete your dairy intake for the day while providing calories you need for weight gain. If you're feeling too full for real food, try another cup of milk or milk alternative, like soy milk.
The USDA also budgets 258 "discretionary" calories into a 2,000-calorie meal plan. You can spend these calories however you want, whether that's a 230-calorie snack of pretzels or a small order of fast food fries. However, you'll get more nutritional benefits if you choose unprocessed whole foods. Try eating an extra ounce of almonds as a snack -- it has 162 calories -- and get your extra hundred calories with a glass of fruit juice or a piece of fruit.
Adding Extra Calories
While this meal plan will help you reach a 2,000-calorie-a-day target, you'll have to eat slightly more food if you need more than 2,000 calories daily. Consider adding a third snack to your meal plan, enjoying an extra piece of fruit or a half-cup serving of grains or upping your protein food intake by an ounce or two at meals. Drink milk in place of water at meals as a source of extra calories, or add an extra tablespoon of nut butter to get more calories and healthy fats.
Weight Gain for Medical Reasons
If you're underweight due to a medical condition and you're struggling to put on weight, talk to your doctor. Certain medical conditions -- like kidney disease, or muscle diseases that affect your ability to eat solid food -- affect your nutritional needs, so you may need a more specialized diet strategy to gain weight. Your physician can recommend a personalized 2,000-calorie diet to meet your unique needs, or refer you to a nutrition profession to create a meal plan to help you gain weight.