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Adding protein and calories to your diet: Lifestyle and nutrition tips

Adding Protein and Calories to Your Diet

Lifestyle and nutrition tips

Some illnesses or treatments can lower your appetite or increase how many calories and how much protein you need. But it can be hard to get enough calories and protein when you’re not feeling well.

Use the tips in this handout if you need more protein and calories and your appetite or energy is low. The tips can also help if you are losing weight without meaning to. Even a small amount more of calories and protein every day can help you to maintain or gain weight and strength.

When to eat

  • Try to eat at least every 2 to 3 hours, even when you don’t feel hungry. Set an alarm on your smart phone, watch, or clock to remind you to eat. Think of eating as medicine. Eat at the same time each day, like you would take medicine.
  • Try to eat more when your appetite is best.
  • Drink between meals or at the end of your meal. This will leave more room in your stomach for food. Drink fluids that give you calories, such as milk, fortified soy beverage, smoothies, nutrition supplement drinks, or juice.

Plan ahead

  • At times that you feel well, make extra food and freeze it in single portions. Use this extra food on low-energy days when you don’t feel like making food.
  • Carry snacks that don’t need to be kept cold with you wherever you go. Keep snacks in your bag, vehicle, office, and in different rooms in your house so they are easy for you to access and enjoy. Snacks that don’t need to be kept cold include fruit and nut bars, granola bars, jerky, and trail mix.
  • Stock your pantry with ready-to-eat or easy-to-make foods.

Save your energy

  • Use pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables and fruits.
  • Try frozen TV dinners.
  • Look into grocery shopping and delivery services, meal services (like Meals on Wheels), and meal prep boxes that may be available in your community. Call 211 or visit 211 Alberta to learn about food services near you.
  • Ask friends and family to help make meals.

Add calories and protein to foods you enjoy

It’s important to eat foods that taste good to you. And there are many ways to add extra calories and protein to foods that you already enjoy. For a full list of foods and tips, download: Adding calories and protein to your diet (PDF) .

A nutrition supplement helps when you can’t meet your nutrient needs through food alone. Choose high-calorie and high-protein versions.

Milk and dairy alternatives

  • Choose full-fat options when possible. This gives you more calories than the lower-fat versions.
  • Use whole milk or skim milk powder in recipes. Try it in cream soups, mashed potatoes, gravy, oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, and cheese sauce.
  • Add grated brick cheese, cottage cheese, or ricotta cheese to cooked pasta, cooked vegetables, and mashed potatoes.
  • Add cottage cheese to smoothies or make a cheese sauce for vegetables.
  • Top soups or salads with sour cream, plain Balkan yogurt, or shredded cheese.
  • Use Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt or ice cream as a topping for fruit, pancakes, waffles, and desserts.

Meat and plant-based protein foods (like beans, lentils, and nuts)

  • Add extra meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, beans, lentils, or tofu to casseroles, vegetable dishes, pasta, rice dishes, soups, sauces, and salads.
  • Keep canned beans like kidney or navy beans in your home. They are quick to prepare.
  • Use hummus and bean dips for sandwich fillings, cracker spreads, or vegetable dips. Use nut or seed butter as a dip for apple wedges or celery sticks.
  • Choose sweet tofu as dessert.
  • Add nut or seed butter to hot cereals or to smoothies.

Condiments, fats, and oils

  • Add extra fat during and after cooking, like for soups, hot cereal, mashed potatoes, pasta, or rice. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to smoothies and add butter to cooked vegetables.
  • Use coconut milk in soups and smoothies.

Desserts, sweets, and sugars

  • Enjoy high-calorie desserts like cakes, cookies, pies, and pastries once in a while.
  • Use jelly or syrup for a glaze on meat or vegetables.
  • Have chocolate-covered raisins or peanuts with snacks.

For a full list of higher calorie and protein foods and drinks, download: Adding calories and protein to your diet (PDF).

Find support

  • Talk to your healthcare team.
  • Call Health Link at 811 and ask to talk to a dietitian. You can also complete a self-referral form to have a dietitian call you.
  • Visit ahs.ca/nutrition to find Alberta Health Services programs and services in your area, or visit ahs.ca/nutritionhandouts for more nutrition information.

To see this information online and learn more, visit MyHealth.Alberta.ca/health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=custom.ab_diet_protein_calories_tips_adult.

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For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: August 18, 2023

Author: Clinical Diabetes, Obesity, and Nutrition SCN, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.