Nourishing & Strengthening Foods . . . for those who are Underweight or Recovering from Illnesses

Losing weight and being ‘thin’ seems to be the ‘end all and be all’ in Western society these days. Everywhere you look, books and websites and recipes are focused on helping us become thinner. But for many thousands of people, weight loss is unintentional, even devastating, and is impacting their health and quality of life severely. These people may be recovering from surgery; they may have a chronic illness or cancer. They may be struggling with anorexia or depression; or may simply be old and weak and unable to look after themselves properly. They may be new mums breastfeeding their babies and needing nourishing food to boost their energy and milk supply. Or they may just be like me – naturally thin – and the busyness of life is wearing them down.

Sadly, underweight people are often overlooked when it comes to nutritional health. They have few places to go for help. I know when I needed help with gaining weight, the doctor I went to just told me to ‘eat more’. He suggested I eat lots of fatty foods, like chops and ice cream. It didn’t work. When you’re sick or stressed and have no appetite, it’s very hard to ‘eat more’ – you just don’t want to. If this is your problem (or you’re trying to get someone like this to eat), I hope these ideas will be helpful to you.

Years ago, I found an old book that had some good advice for those who need to gain weight. (Sadly, I’ve lost the book and only have a few photocopies from it, so don’t know the title.) It said:
        “It’s not how much you eat, but how much you assimilate that builds a strong body. Weak, run-down persons stuff themselves in an effort to gain strength, and more food often than not merely adds to their troubles. The vital elements of most foods are locked in minute cells which must be broken down to release their building elements. This breaking-down process should be well begun before the food reaches the stomach.”

The article goes on to talk about how food needs to be chewed to a ‘fine, milky paste’ before it is swallowed, to get the most from it – but when we’re stressed or busy we don’t take the time to chew properly. And when people are weak and sick, it just takes too much energy. So one solution in times of stress, busyness or sickness, is to use a ‘blender’ to whip food into an easy to digest consistency. The Thermomix is perfect for this!

How blended foods can help underweight people

The most nutritious combinations of foods to blend into a drinkable state are proteins with fruit juices. For example: nuts, eggs or cheese whizzed up with fresh fruit to make creamy juices. (See below in ‘breakfast & snack ideas’.)

‘Cream of’ soups are also perfect – you can blend the raw veges with your milk of choice, add some herb salt and a tablespoon of butter, ghee or coconut oil, and warm it up. In the Thermomix, you can grind veges to a paste in seconds, add the milk and fat, blend on speed 9 for a minute, then barely warm at 37 degrees. That way you’ve still got the nutrients of the raw veges but it’s much easier to eat than a salad.

Some veges that work well like this are fresh green peas, shallots, raw beetroot, carrots, parsley, spinach, asparagus, and mushrooms. It’s best to do just one vege on it’s own at a time – 1 cup of milk (I recommend a dairy free milk as it’s easier to digest) to a handful of the chopped vegetable, plus salt and butter, ghee or coconut oil. This can be sipped from a mug, which is easier than sitting down to a meal when you don’t have much appetite.

Small meals more often

Another helpful idea is to eat smaller, nutrient-rich meals, more often. For people who are sick or lacking appetite, it’s difficult to eat a normal sized meal at one sitting. Four or five small ‘meals’ a day are easier to cope with. Sometimes that might just mean a smoothie or a cup of the ‘cream of vege’ soup, or even banana ‘ice-cream’ or custard – as long as it’s nutrititous, don’t worry too much about what it is. (See suggestions below for more small meal ideas.)


Foods that are helpful for weight building and strengthening

Here’s some ideas for meals and snacks that I’ve found helpful. Stick to plain foods, nothing too rich or complicated – just simple, nourishing food.

Lunches and Dinners:

– blended ‘cream of’ soups with raw veges (as above)

homemade mayonnaise on salads

– waldorf salad

– egg salad with wholemeal toast (spelt or gluten free) spread with butter or mayonnaise

– nourishing soups and broths – especially chicken or potato soups, or beef broth. Make your own chicken or beef broth the old-fashioned way for best nutrition: see my recipe for Coconut Lemon Chicken Soup. Or for a quick and tasty chicken soup, try Creamy Chicken and Brown Rice Soup. Also Creamy Smoked Salmon Soup

– lightly cooked spinach – can be lightly sauteed, or just stir into soup/broth just before serving so it wilts but isn’t overcooked

– lightly steamed vegetables – steamed veges are actually easier to digest than raw veges when you’re unwell; it doesn’t take as much work for the body to break them down

– fish/chicken/hamburger patties, grilled, with baked potato and a little salad or steamed veges – top potato with butter or mayonnaise or dairy free sour cream. I find when I have no appetite, the one thing I can stomach is plain beef or turkey mince patties with herb salt and some steamed veges!

– tuna and celery salad with homemade mayonnaise on toast or in a sandwich – tuna, mayo, a little mustard, boiled egg, finely chopped onion, celery and dill pickle (optional)

– beef stroganoff or stew (not too rich, tone down the seasonings) on pasta or mashed potatoes – you can use my dairy free sour cream in place of dairy sour cream in stroganoff

– baked sweet potatoes – again, top with butter or mayonnaise or df sour cream

– casseroles – nothing too rich though – dairy free white sauce recipe here

– seafood/chicken with cheese sauce on pasta -if you can have dairy, otherwise a df white sauce or melty ‘cheese’ sauce

– baked macaroni and cheese – again, if you can’t have dairy use this melty ‘cheese’ sauce

Breakfast and snack ideas:

– fresh juices blended with egg/nuts/cheese/raw coconut – Try:
fresh orange juice with pecans or blanched almonds;
– fresh pineapple with raw cashews or pecans;
– fresh grapefruit or tangelos with raw nuts or fresh coconut;
– pineapple with a couple of tablespoons cottage cheese or orange juice with cream cheese if you can have dairy;
– a mixture of fruits, as in my Creamy Citrus Smoothie.
[Note: if you can’t have nuts, just use the raw coconut or shredded coconut, or even sunflower and pepita seeds.]

– banana and egg in smoothies – bananas are great for weight gain! I would use a non-dairy recipe with nut milk, like my Banana Nut Butter Protein Shake or Chocolate Almond Smoothie.

– avocado on toast/crackers – preferably a sour dough or artisan gluten free or spelt toast, or rice crackers

– hot chocolate or carob made all on milk – again I’d use dairy free nut milks – try my Creamy Cashew Milk Hot Chocolate, but use carob powder if you can (easier on the stomach) or at least use less cacao powder and Rapadura so it’s milder.

– Swiss breakfast – a handful of oats or quinoa flakes and raw almonds, soaked overnight with water to cover and a squeeze of lemon juice; next morning top with grated apple and cream/yoghurt and a little honey or pure maple syrup. (I use coconut cream or coconut yoghurt.)

– sliced banana with cashew cream/cream/yoghurt

– cooked cereals – I like the Chinese style drinking porridge in the Thermomix Everyday Cookbook, or cooked quinoa flake porridge with fresh fruit and coconut cream on top. Try Cyndi O’Meara’s Pina Colada porridge – so good!

– a tablespoon of black molasses stirred into milk of choice, slightly warm is nice (my 1st child LOVED this!)

– fruit ‘cereal’ with chopped nuts – try one of these: pink fruit cereal, raw fruit cereal. Or CADA – a handful each of shredded coconut, raw almonds, dates, and a quartered apple, chopped on turbo speed a few times in the Thermomix until muesli consistency. I like to add frozen blueberries to my CADA.

– custard – cashew & honey custard, rice-almond milk custard, banana chia seed custard – with sliced bananas is great (especially like this!), or in an apple-berry custard crumble

– banana ice cream – frozen bananas whizzed up in the Thermomix, with a handful of raw nuts (macadamias, cashews, almonds)

– stewed fruit with cream/yoghurt/cashew cream

wholemeal scones with homemade jam (like my naturally sweetened strawberry jam) and cashew cream/cream

– apple pie with cashew cream/cream/custard

On a personal note, I’ve always struggled with being underweight, and stress and busyness decrease my appetite making things worse. With the help of a naturopath I figured out that one of my main problems was that I was also eating foods that didn’t agree with me (mostly wheat and dairy), and they were blocking the nutrients from being absorbed properly, so I just couldn’t gain weight no matter how much I ate. Once I changed my diet to a wheat free, dairy free, naturally sweetened way of eating, I finally managed to gain some weight, and felt a lot healthier. I also had to learn to slow down, sleep more, and eat sitting down and not rushing around. Okay, I’m still working on those. 😉

So if you are in the same ‘boat’ as me and need to gain weight or eat more nourishing foods, I hope these tips will be helpful to you, too.

All the best,
Jo 🙂

4 thoughts on “Nourishing & Strengthening Foods . . . for those who are Underweight or Recovering from Illnesses

  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you so much Jo. I do struggling with this atm and could relate to everything you said. Thanks for a handy list of go-to’s. Lisa ☺️

  2. Michael egan says:

    Hey Jo,

    A very good article I too struggle with the weight gain thing and haven’t actually considered the naturopath route. Something I will certainlylook into.

    Thanks for the tips

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