What Does a 1,200-Calorie Diet Look Like?
See what a day's worth of food looks like on a 1,200-calorie diet. Plus, get a sample meal plan to help you lose weight with healthy ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
When you're trying to eat better or lose weight, sometimes you just want someone to tell you what to eat. Following a meal plan that's designed by a registered dietitian is a great place to start, but first you need to calculate your daily calorie goal.
How to Calculate Your Daily Calorie Goal
On a daily diet of 1,200 calories, most everyone will lose weight. By calculating your daily calorie goal, you can get a more precise look at what your calorie level should be to set yourself up for successful weight loss. This simple calculation will give you a daily calorie goal that can help you lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week.
To estimate how many calories you need each day to stay at the weight you are right now, multiply your current weight by 12.
To lose 1 pound/week: Cut 500 calories/day
To lose 2 pounds/week: Cut 1,000 calories/day
If your current weight is 160 pounds and your goal is to lose 1 pound per week:
160 [lb.] x 12 = 1,920 [calories]
1,920 [calories] – 500 [calories] = 1,420 calories
This formula is used in many clinical weight-loss trials and assumes the person using the equation is sedentary. If you're an active person, you may find you need more calories than what you calculated to feel satisfied during the day. The best gauge for whether you're at the right level is how satisfied you feel (you shouldn't be hungry all day!) and whether you're losing weight. If you're losing weight on 1,800 calories a day and you feel great, stick with that. The calculation is just a suggested starting point. As you lose weight, you may want to run the calorie-target calculation again, since your calorie needs will have changed.
For healthy weight loss, we don't advise losing more than 2 pounds per week. If you calculate a daily calorie goal that's less than 1,200, set your calorie goal at 1,200 calories. Below that, it's hard to meet your nutrient needs-or to feel satisfied enough to stick with a plan. And if you find that you're losing too much weight too quickly, bump up your daily calorie intake up to help you stay in that weight-loss zone of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Here we show what a day's worth of food looks like on a 1,200-calorie diet.
Want to take this meal plan to go? Pack everything up in our favorite meal-prep containers:
For Breakfast: These leakproof glass meal-prep containers (To buy: OXO Good Grips Smart Seal Containers, bedbathandbeyond.com, $30 for a set) mean you don't have to worry about your breakfast making a mess on the way to work or wherever you're headed.
For Snacks: The same glass containers listed above can also be used for snacks like the cucumber and hummus we have here for the A.M. snack. We also love these reusable silicone Stasher Bags (To buy: Stasher Reusable Silicone Bag, bedbathandbeyond.com, $12 for 1) for packing up things like the orange slices for the afternoon snack.
For Lunch: These larger glass glass meal-prep containers (To buy: Glasslock Food Storage Set, bedbathandbeyond.com, $30 for a set) are a nice for storing lunches of different sizes.
Some original reporting by Nicci Micco, M.S.
Breakfast on a 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan
For breakfast, choose something between 250 and 300 calories.
- 1 3/4 cup Muesli with Raspberries
TOTAL: 287 calories
Other breakfast ideas for a 1,200-calorie diet:
Avocado Egg-In-A-Hole Toasts (285 calories)
Blueberry-Banana Overnight Oats (285 calories)
All Greens Smoothie Bowl (270 calories)
Aim to keep snacks around 50 to 100 calories. Try these easy 100-calorie snacks here.
- 1 cup cucumber slices (16 calories)
- 3 Tbsp. hummus (78 calories)
TOTAL: 93 calories
Lunch on a 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan
Aim to make lunch 300 to 350 calories. Try some of these great lunch ideas for work.
- 2 cups No-Cook Black Bean Salad
TOTAL: 322 calories
Use your afternoon snack to fill out the rest of the day's calories.
- 1 medium orange
TOTAL: 62 calories
Dinner on a 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan
Aim for dinner to be between 400 and 500 calories. See all of our healthy low-calorie dinner recipes.
TOTAL: 443 calories
Daily Total: 1,208 calories, 60 g protein, 158 g carbohydrates, 38 g fiber, 45 g fat, 1,190 mg sodium
Get a delicious meal plan each week based on your weight loss goal and the foods you like to eat. With the Cooking Light Diet, you’ll enjoy restaurant-quality meals and a handy planning tool with access to thousands of recipes.