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1,200-Calories-a-Day Meal Planner

By Mike Samuels

When planning your diet, calories are the most important factor to consider, as caloric balance determines whether you lose, gain or maintain weight. You shouldn't drop below 1,200 calories per day, warns Eat Right, the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as this can cause nutritional deficiencies. A sedentary woman wanting to lose weight can probably achieve her goal on a 1,200-calorie diet. The easiest way to split up 1,200 calories over the day is to have three meals, roughly 300 calories each, plus two 150-calorie snacks.

Planning Your Plate

Along with splitting up your calories evenly throughout the day, it's a good idea to aim for roughly the same sort of template meal to meal. The USDA suggests using the ChooseMyPlate guide, in which you split up your plate at every meal into different sections. Roughly one quarter of each meal should be vegetables, one quarter fruits, one quarter grains, one quarter lean protein, plus an optional serving of dairy.

Start the Day Right

Fitting in with the MyPlate guidelines, you might start your day with a pepper-and-mushroom omelet made with one egg on one half of a whole-grain bagel. That would cover your protein, grains and veggies. Then, include 1 cup of blueberries or strawberries for your fruit. Another option would be to have 1/2 cup of oats with raspberries, one slice of lean Canadian bacon and 1 cup of grape tomatoes. Both of these options add up to around 300 calories.

Love Your Lunch

For the traditional sandwich lunch, place 2 ounces of cooked chicken breast, 1 ounce of reduced-fat cheese and lettuce in a small whole-grain tortilla and eat that with 1 small apple. Another option could be 1/2 cup cooked brown rice with 1 small can of tuna and a homemade salsa made from tomatoes, chili peppers, avocado, onion and green peppers.

Dine in Style

For dinner, combine 3 ounces of extra lean ground turkey with zucchini, tinned tomatoes and broccoli and serve over 1/2 cup of cooked spaghetti. Or, if you'd rather have something slightly different, you could have a dinner of 3 ounces of pork tenderloin, 1 cup of sweet potato, plus 1 cup each of cauliflower, asparagus and carrot, with a kiwi fruit for dessert, which also has about 300 calories.

Simple Snacks

Sticking to the MyPlate guidelines when you only have 150 calories per snack is a little more difficult, so aim to make your snacks healthy and nutrient-dense. Registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner suggests Greek skewers made with watermelon, feta cheese and cucumber, 1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt with honey, cocoa and raspberries, half an apple with a slice of cheddar cheese, or sliced red bell pepper with guacamole and black beans.

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