A detailed meal plan including what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it may sound like the perfect way for someone new to healthy eating to get started. With each meal laid out, there should be no questions when it comes to food intake. Just follow the plan exactly as written and you can’t go wrong. The problem is that we are human beings, not robots and this is not sustainable for most people due to the inflexibility. This guide provides several SAMPLE meal plans for the purpose of helping those new to healthy eating gain a clear understanding of what various levels of calorie intake look like in the real world. If your goal is to eat 1,500 calories a day, but you have no idea what that looks like, it makes it quite difficult to adhere to that plan. This guide aims to provide clarity to help you as you learn to make healthy, appropriate food choices based on your own individual goals and personal/cultural preferences.
You may find it helpful to look at the sample meal plans from each calorie target. This will provide you with additional meal examples and their calorie and macronutrient (protein, fat, carbs) content. Keep in mind that these sample meal plans are just examples to help you get an idea of what a 500 calorie meal or a 350 calorie meal might look like. Once you have a basic understanding, you should be able to better estimate the amount of food you are eating each day. It takes practice, but after a short time it will become second nature. If you stick to whole, minimally processed foods that you prepare yourself, you will be setting yourself up for success.
Just about any “diet” will work but the key to long-term success is to find an eating strategy that works well for you as an individual including your likes, dislikes, lifestyle, culture, and training goals. If your eating plan is not something you can consistently adhere to, you will not be able to reap the benefits of that eating plan. Make sure to choose foods and dishes that you like. There are so many options that can be included in a healthy diet so even the most picky of eaters can find food selections that will keep them on track.
A 1,200 calorie per day diet is on the low-end of the diets included in this sample guide. Targets lower than 1,200 calories typically require a bit more specificity and it may be best to go targets lower than 1,200 calories with your nutritionist/coach. The key to adhering to a 1,200 calorie diet is to make wise food choices since there is not much wiggle room if you are going to hit your target protein and micronutrients.
- 1 c. mixed berries
- small banana
- unsweetened almond milk
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
20g protein | 3g fat | 42g carbs | 8g fiber
Garlic Herb Chicken & Broccoli
- 8oz chicken breast
- 1-2 c. broccoli
- 1 tsp olive oil
- various seasonings
55g protein | 11g fat | 14g carbs | 5g fiber
Veggie Pitas and Salad
- 1 veggie burger patty
- 1 whole wheat pita bread
- 1 oz Greek yogurt
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- various herbs
17g protein | 12g fat | 37g carbs | 7g fiber
- 1/2 c. 2% fat cottage cheese
13g protein | 3g fat | 31g carbs | 3g fiber
A 1,500 calorie per day diet provides a bit more flexibility for food selections while also providing more energy for activities such as vigorous exercise which can make adherence easier than a 1,200 calorie diet, especially long-term. While there is more flexibility, it is still important to select mostly quality, minimally processed foods to ensure you get all your nutrient needs while also managing hunger.
Scrambled Eggs & Oatmeal
- 3 whole eggs scrambled
- 1/2 c. (measured dry) oatmeal
- stevia to taste
25g protein | 18g fat | 28g carbs | 4g fiber
Turkey Avocado Sandwich & Side Salad
- 2 slices whole-wheat, sugar-free bread
- 4oz sliced turkey breast
- 1/2 avocado (for sandwich and salad)
- mixed greens
- variety of sliced veggies
- 2 tbsp oil & vinegar dressing
37g protein | 26g fat | 47g carbs | 23g fiber
Grilled Chicken Breast & Brussels Sprouts
- 6oz boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 10 Brussels sprouts
- 1 c. rice pilaf
39g protein | 5g fat | 54g carbs | 5g fiber
30g protein | 2g fat | 2g carbs | 0g fiber
A 2,000 calorie diet provides some room for flexible food choices that may include a bit more room for “treat” type foods. As with any nutrition plan, it’s important that the plan match your weight loss (or gain) goals, activity level, and any training. The more activity you engage in (whether official exercise or not), the more calories you may need to fuel that activity. A good nutritionist can help you find an optimal balance.
Scrambled Egg Whites With Mushrooms, Tomatoes, and Toast
- 1 1/4 c. egg whites
- 1 c. diced mushrooms
- 1/2 c. sliced tomatoes
- 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large slice whole grain toast
42g protein | 9g fat | 26g carbs | 5g fiber
Turkey with Green Beans and Avocado
- 8oz turkey breast
- 1 c. green beans
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 tsp olive oil
58g protein | 20g fat | 23g carbs | 10g fiber
Cheese Burger and Side Salad
- 4oz hamburger patty
- 1 slice cheddar cheese
- 1/2 avocado
- whole-wheat hamburger bun
- tomato slice
- mixed green side salad with other veggies
- 2 tbsp oil & vinegar dressing
33g protein | 33g fat | 54g carbs | 12g fiber
- 1/2 c. almonds
- veggie sticks
13g protein | 28g fat | 31g carbs | 9g fiber
A 2,500 calorie diet may actually be difficult for some people to achieve, especially when the majority of food selections come from minimally processed, whole foods. Diets consisting of 2,500 calories or more are typically used by those with physically demanding jobs and/or those regularly engaging in high intensity training, cycling, running, team sports, etc.
When eating at a target of 2,500+ calories per day, you have more flexibility in discretionary food selections. This means that assuming the bulk of your daily food intake was from whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods, you can have that small scoop of ice cream piece of cake, or extra serving of pasta with dinner while still remaining within your daily calorie target. When you focus on primarily high-quality food selections, you will ensure you are getting all the micronutrients you need for general health. When eating in a lower calorie range, you have less discretionary calories if you are aiming to ensure you meet your daily micronutrient needs.
Simply take a look at the 2,000 calorie sample meal plan, understanding that you could add in an additional 500+ calories through various means. If you are a snacker, you can see how you would have a bit more freedom to enjoy a couple extra pieces of fruit throughout the day, an extra serving at dinner, or maybe a cookie at the office.