Easy Low Calorie Meal Plans

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You're in charge of your family's nutritional health, one of countless roles you play everyday. It's important to get this job right but you need a plan to pull it off successfully. Save time, lose or maintain weight and stay healthy by using a low-calorie meal plan that's simple to prepare and serve and meets your family's nutritional needs.

Health Benefits

Low-calorie meals help you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Keeping a healthy weight for your height lowers your risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and other serious degenerative diseases. Lower caloric intake often means lower LDL cholesterol, the bad kind that can lead to blocked arteries. The healthy foods you serve boost the whole family's immune systems and provide energy to fuel their active lifestyles.

Sticking to It

Find a meal plan that works for you and then stick to it. Harvard School of Public Health tested four different weight loss diets for two years and concluded that consuming fewer calories was the one invariable way to lose weight, whether you ate high-fat or low-fat foods. If weight loss is your goal, find a plan that your family accepts so you don't have to prepare separate meals. If maintaining good health is your priority, use a nutrition-based plan that follows the USDA recommended food guidelines for carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, including lean, light and low-fat versions of all foods.

The Dash Diet

The Dash Diet, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and widely endorsed, was designed to help Americans eat healthy and avoid being overweight. Limit all sugars, trans fats, most saturated fats and refined grains and restrict calories if weight loss is your goal. Timesavers for Dash Diet meals are precut vegetables, like bagged carrots, grocery store salad bars with prechopped fruits, vegetables and garnishes, premade dips such as hummus or quick dips of low-fat yogurt or ricotta and packaged dip mix, and skim milk smoothies sweetened with fresh fruit. Use leftovers of lean grilled chicken and lightly steamed vegetables in a main course salad with light dressing. Go light on morning coffee by making skim-milk latte instead.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is plant-based but not exclusively so. You can have lean chicken -- skinless -- and fish but you should limit or leave out dairy products and use olive oil in place of butter. Half your plate for each meal on this plan is vegetables. The other half holds whole grains and beans, fish or poultry. Brush olive oil over vegetables and roast them in the oven. Serve fruits for snacks and desserts. Eat oatmeal, not the instant kind, and whole grains such as amaranth, quinoa and whole wheat breads and pastas. Skip the salt and use spices to flavor foods. A low-salt trick is to rinse canned beans to remove sodium before adding them to a recipe.