Be good Monday to Friday with our easy meal plan and you'll look great by Saturday morning.
Let's face it, on the weekends anything goes, including your healthy-eating intentions! The good news is that nutrition experts say you can relax a bit on the weekends if you buckle down during the week. We're not talking a two-day binge but one decadent dinner out, a spectacular Sunday breakfast, or a bucket of popcorn at the movies can be just fine, if you plan ahead and keep your overall calorie balance in check, says Milton Stokes, RD, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.
It all boils down to a numbers game. Cut 500 calories each day of the week -- by adjusting your diet and exercising -- and you'll "bank" 2,500 calories by Saturday. So even if you enjoy an extra 1,000 to 1,500 over the weekend, you'll still come out ahead.
You can look at it another way: If you changed nothing about your calorie intake all week long and still splurged on the weekend to the tune of just 500 extra calories (that's a big slice of New York-style cheesecake), you'd gain 7.5 pounds in a year. Treat yourself to 1,500 extra weekend calories and you'd pack on 22 pounds.
But there's no reason to punish yourself on the weekend. Follow our plan and you can treat yourself -- without a side of guilt.
Step 1: Manage Your Meal Calories
The average American woman is 5 foot 4, weighs 164.3 pounds and takes in almost 1,900 calories per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A modest cut to 1,600 calories won't leave you tired, hungry, or irritable. Stay on course with zero-calorie beverages such as water, unsweetened tea, or diet drinks.
The plan provides slightly larger lunches and smaller dinners since most women are on the go during the day and wind down in the evening. Generous snacks are part of the stave-off-hunger plan. You can use the same principles to create additional meals. Menus are based on the USDA MyPyramid 1,600-calorie plan. Here's what you get each day:
- 5 oz. grains (1 oz. equals 1 mini whole-grain bagel, 1 regular slice whole-grain bread, 4 snack-size slices whole-rye bread, 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal or 1 packet instant oatmeal, 3 cups light microwave-popped popcorn, 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, 1 cup whole-grain cereal)
- 2 cups vegetables
- 1 1/2 cups fruit
- 3 servings dairy (1 serving equals 1 cup skim or 1 percent milk, 1 cup low-fat or nonfat yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces or 1 slice regular or low-fat cheese, 1/2 cup reduced-fat or nonfat ricotta, 2 cups reduced-fat or nonfat cottage cheese, 1/3 cup shredded cheese)
- 5 oz. meat/beans (1 oz. equals 1 egg; 1/2 ounce of nuts/seeds; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; 2 tablespoons hummus; 1/4 cup cooked beans/lentils; 1/4 cup tofu; 1/2 veggie burger)
Step 2: Burn 250 Extra Calories a Day
Build the rest of your weekend calorie bank by sneaking in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day. Brisk walking for a total of 20 minutes burns 144 calories. Just 10 minutes of stair-climbing burns 112 more. Daily total: 256 calories.
The 1,600-Calorie Easy-Does-It Meal Plan
Because the calories in all of our five breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options are roughly the same, you can mix and match them as you please -- Breakfast 2, Lunch 5, Dinner 1, Snack 4 -- to create a day's worth of easy-to-assemble meals.
2 oz. grains, 1/2 cup fruit, 1 dairy
- 2 cups whole-grain flaked cereal with 1 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup slice banana. Total: 370 calories
- 2 slices whole-grain toast, each spread with 1/4 cup reduced-fat or nonfat ricotta and topped with 1/4 cup fresh peach slices or drained peaches, canned in juice. Total: 290 calories
- 1 whole-grain English muffin, toasted, open face. Layer each half with 1/2 cup nonfat cottage cheese, salt-free Italian seasoning mix, and 2 fresh tomato slices. Total: 317 calories
- 2 packets instant oatmeal topped with 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries warmed in the microwave. 1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt. Total: 325 calories
- 2 frozen whole-grain waffles topped with 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce warmed in microwave, sprinkled with apple-pie spice, plus 1 cup skim milk. Total: 310 calories
2 oz. grains, 1/2 cup vegetables, 3 oz. meat/beans
- 1 whole-wheat pita filled with 3 oz. tuna in a pouch, plus 1/4 cup each of grape tomatoes and baby carrots with 2 tablespoons light ranch dressing for dipping. Total: 413 calories
- 1 whole-grain bagel with spicy mustard, 3 oz. sliced smoked deli turkey and 1/2 cup field greens drizzled with 2 tablespoons low-fat balsamic vinaigrette
- 2 slices toasted whole-grain bread spread with 1 tablespoon purchased roasted red-pepper pesto, filled with 1 1/2 microwaved veggie burger patties and 1/2 cup total sliced tomato, red onion, and romaine leaves. Total: 334 calories
- 6-inch fast-food deli sub on whole wheat with mustard, filled with 3 oz. lean ham and 1/2 cup raw veggies (lettuce, tomato, onion, peppers, shredded carrots). Total: 290 calories
- 1 whole-grain wrap with 3 oz. grilled chicken, 1/4 cup each drained artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers canned in water, with 2 tablespoons low-fat balsamic vinaigrette. Total: 354 calories
1 oz. grain, 1 1/2 cups vegetables, 1 dairy, 2 oz. meat/beans
- Quick taco salad: 1 cup romaine salad mix topped with 2 oz. skinless grilled chicken breast, 1/2 cup salsa and 1/4 cup reduced-fat shredded Cheddar. 1 corn tortilla. Total: 345 calories
- 1 1/2 cups broth-based vegetable soup sprinkled with 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, followed by 1/2 cup cooked wild rice and 2 oz. grilled fish such as tilapia, orange roughy, salmon. Total: 485 calories
- Fast-food salad made with 1 1/2 cups greens and vegetables, 1/3 cup shredded cheese, 2 oz. grilled chicken breast, croutons, and low-fat dressing. Total: 320 calories
- 1/2 cup canned reduced-sodium black bean soup topped with 1/3 cup shredded Cheddar served with 1 1/2 cups garden salad mix drizzled with 2 tablespoons low-fat balsamic vinaigrette. Total: 335 calories
- 1/2 cup whole wheat couscous sprinkled with 1 oz. feta, plus 1 1/2 cups grilled asparagus and 2 oz. grilled shrimp. Total: 365 calories
1 cup fruit, 1 dairy, Discretionary calories (about 200/day)
- 1 cup fresh melon (or 1 cup pineapple chunks, canned in juice), 1 reduced-fat string cheese, 2 oz. almonds. Total: 520 calories
- 1 cup fresh cherries (or 1 medium sliced pear), 1 cup nonfat cottage cheese, 1 1/2 oz. sunflower seeds. Total: 505 calories
- 2 small plums (or 1 medium apple), 1 1/2 oz. reduced-fat Cheddar, 2 oz. peanuts. Total: 555 calories
- 1 cup fresh raspberries mixed into 1 cup reduced-fat raspberry yogurt, 1 oz. walnuts. Total: 520 calories
- 1 cup grapes, 2 oz. reduced-fat smoked Gouda, 2 oz pecans. Total: 610 calories
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, July 2006.
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