There are times, like after a food-filled vacation or a big holiday, when I feel like my typically healthy diet needs a bit of a refresh. Instead of skipping meals, feeling guilty or drastically cutting calories—habits that can be detrimental to your health—try making some small changes to each meal to get back on track without a diet overhaul. Here’s a daily plan with tricks for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that will save some calories and help you get right back on track.
— Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
I always start my day with a healthy breakfast—but when I’m trying to restart my healthy habits, I use a few tricks to cut calories without missing out on any of my favorites. My first trick is swapping my typical two pieces of whole-wheat bread for one whole-wheat English muffin to save about 35 calories. That’s not a huge savings on its own, but if I also use slightly less peanut butter on my toast and use low-fat milk instead of cream in my coffee, I can save about 100 calories without feeling deprived. Another sneaky trick to use at breakfast: have a slightly smaller portion of oatmeal or cereal (e.g., downsizing from a ½ cup to 1/3 cup of oats) and bulk up your bowl with more fruit.
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If a sandwich is on the menu, swap the mayo for mustard and ditch the top slice of bread (making both switches can save about 180 calories). Pile on plenty of veggies like lettuce, tomato slices and cucumbers to add bulk for very few calories. (Added bonus: a large piece of lettuce is a great stand-in for a missing slice of bread.) Eating a sandwich that’s loaded with veggies and has only a small amount of meat or cheese can be a good lunch choice. But one of my favorite healthy and low-cal lunches is a hearty salad, like this EatingWell Power Salad.
The key to making a satisfying salad without a lot of calories is to start with about two cups of greens (I like baby spinach), then add lots of colorful vegetables, such as diced cucumbers, bell peppers and artichoke hearts. Next, add a source of lean protein (which will help keep you full), like beans, grilled chicken or tuna (hold the mayo). Include a small serving of healthy whole-grain carbs, such as quinoa or a whole-wheat pita on the side—the fiber will also help you feel fuller longer.
Finally, add a little bit of dressing for flavor—no more than two tablespoons. (But don’t skip it altogether, since the fat in the dressing helps your body absorb nutrients from your salad.) This EatingWell Power Salad clocks in at just 180 calories per serving and is a filling and nutritious lunch.
You can—and should—still enjoy snacks on a day where you’re trying to eat fewer calories. If you choose wisely, snacks can help you manage your hunger and pack lots of nutrients into your day without adding too many calories. I use my snacks as an opportunity to pump up my intake of fruits and veggies, so I’ll have celery sticks with a little peanut butter, or blueberries with a dollop of plain yogurt. Snacking on fiber-filled produce with a bit of protein (nuts, hummus, low-fat cheese) is a pairing that can help fill you up until your next meal. If you’re craving something crunchy and savory, munch on popcorn instead of chips. Three cups of air-popped popcorn can save you about 75 calories over a snack-size bag of chips.
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When I’m minding calories and still want to feel satisfied, I turn to low-calorie veggies to bulk up a meal. Try swapping mashed cauliflower for potatoes (cup for cup, cauliflower saves 90 calories), or use spaghetti squash in place of pasta (to save 130 calories per cup). I usually aim to fill half my dinner plate with vegetables, then round out the meal with a serving of lean protein (think salmon or tofu). A whole-grain side like farro or brown rice can complete the meal and provide additional fiber, which, like protein, helps fill you up.
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If you’re still hankering for something extra at the end of the day, you don’t have to deprive yourself. And in fact, you shouldn’t: small treats may actually help you stick to your weight-loss goals. Try a small piece of dark chocolate or one of these 100-calorie desserts.
A day like this one allows you to eat lots of delicious food while still cutting calories to get back on track to losing weight. Incorporating these swaps throughout the day can add up to a 500-calorie savings, which over the course of a week can help you lose about 1 pound.