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How to Create a 1,200 Calorie Menu

by Andrea Cespedes

A diet of just 1,200 calories helps most women lose weight, but can still provide adequate nutrition when properly planned. Instead of following a set plan designed by someone else, create your own 1,200-calorie meal plan so you can incorporate some of your favorite foods in a way that fits into your schedule. Having a meal plan also helps make shopping easier and allows you to plan for potential dieting pitfalls such as meals out and social occasions. Before starting a 1,200-calorie diet, check with your physician to make sure it is a healthy choice for you.

Calorie Distribution

Meal planning can help you avoid overeating at any one meal. It will also help you avoid skipping meals, which can lead you to make poor food choices later. Plan to distribute your 1,200 calories over at least three meals, each containing between 350 and 450 calories. If you keep each meal to 350 calories, you can also afford a 150-calorie snack during the day. You might want to plan for a snack if you often go longer than four hours between meals.

Servings

A 1,200-calorie meal plan should include a variety of foods from all of the major food groups. Eat from 5 to 6 oz. of grains daily, with at least half of these coming from whole grains. You should also strive for a minimum 3 cups of dairy, 5 oz. of protein, 1 1/2 cups of fruit, and 2 cups of vegetables daily. Plan each meal to include a food from two or three of these food groups. You also need at least 20 percent of your calories to come from fats. Choose unsaturated types to make up this minimum 27 g daily.

Food Choices

Calories can add up quickly, so you want to plan to eat foods with high nutrition, but few calories per serving. Whole grains, such as 100-percent whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice and oatmeal, provide more fiber and nutrition than white bread with about the same number of calories. Opt for non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, summer squash, and peppers for just about 50 calories per cup. Citrus fruits, melons, apples, and berries are low in calories and contain more naturally occurring nutrients and fiber than juice. For protein, skip cuts of meat high in saturated fat such as ribs, dark meat poultry, and brisket. More saturated fat usually means a higher concentration of calories and an increased risk of heart disease. Instead, choose proteins such as chicken breast without the skin, white fish, tofu, and beef tenderloin. Full-fat dairy also contains a significant amount of saturated fat, so plan for low- or non-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Unsaturated fats, which support heart health, are found in plant oils, nuts, fatty fish and avocados.

Template

To develop your meal plan, determine what types of foods and how many servings you will have at each meal, then slot in your favorite choices for each category. For example, at breakfast, you could plan to have one serving of grains, one serving of dairy, and one serving of fruit. At lunch, you could include two additional grains, one cup of vegetables, two ounces of protein and a fruit for dessert. For dinner, have three ounces of protein, one serving of grains, one serving of dairy, and one cup of vegetables. Your snack might include one additional serving of dairy and more vegetables or whole grains. At each meal, include about 8 g of fat -- with just 3 or 4 g at snack time.

Sample

For example, breakfast might be one slice of whole wheat toast with a tsp. of olive-oil spread, a small apple, and cup of skim milk. For lunch, sandwich 2 oz. of deli turkey in a whole grain English muffin with mustard. Have one cup of sliced red pepper with 2 tbsp. of hummus or fat-free ranch dressing and an orange on the side. For dinner, steam 3 oz. of shrimp and mix with 1/2 cup of whole-wheat pasta, 1/2 tbsp. of olive oil and 1 cup of steamed broccoli. Drink another cup of skim milk on the side. For your snack, you could have 1 cup of nonfat, plain yogurt with six chopped almonds and two rye crisp crackers.

About the Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.

Photo Credits

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