# How much food do you really need?

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., June 23, 2010 - 12:17pm

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We all know—and you’ve heard me give my registered dietitian spiel before—that to slim down you have to eat less than you burn or burn more than you eat. Same difference.

Depending on the type of person you are, this might sound more math-intensive than balancing a checkbook. And downright dreadful if you’re the type who never balances your checkbook…

The good news, says Nicci Micco, author of EatingWell’s 500-Calorie Dinners book, is that most of us will lose weight on a daily diet of 1,500 calories. (If you want to be even more precise about cutting calories, use this calculation to get a daily calorie goal that can help you lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week.)

OK, great, but what does 1,500 calories look like?

It’s the total calorie count for all the food pictured here. Even better, here’s a meal-by-meal breakdown:

Breakfast: Start your day off with 300 to 350 calories. For example, the breakfast here is 349 calories and you get 1 cup of oatmeal topped with ¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt and ½ cup of berries, plus a 12 oz. nonfat latte. Want more options? Click here for nearly 20 more 300- to 350- calorie breakfast ideas.

Snacks: Your snacks for the entire day should come in between 250 to 375 calories, depending on how much you eat at your meals. Pictured here are two snacks—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning snack of 1 cup baby carrots with ¼ cup hummus is 157 calories. In the afternoon, a snack that includes a small apple, 12 almonds and ice water with lemon is 170 calories. Here are more snack ideas, for any time of day, and all at 250 calories or less.

Lunch: Aim to make lunch 325 to 400 calories. What’s pictured is 362 calories—one slice whole-wheat bread, toasted with ½ oz. Cheddar cheese and 2 slices of tomato, plus 1½ cups black bean soup. A version that’s a little more portable (for the office or a road trip, say) is a tuna sandwich (2 slices multigrain bread, ½ cup tuna salad made with 2 tsp. low-fat mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato) plus a peach—all for 327 calories. You can find more lunch ideas for 400 calories or less here.

Dinner: End your day with about 500 calories. For example, the pictured Tuna Steaks Provencal with Sicilian-Style Broccoli, ½ cup pearl barley, plus Baby Tiramisu for dessert is only 481 calories (get the menu and recipes here). Find more 500-calorie dinners that are ready in 30 minutes here.

If you want to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, consider trading it for dessert. A 5 oz. glass of wine is about 120 calories.

Have you noticed yet what’s missing? Juices and soft drinks! Here’s why: studies show that sweet beverages don’t satisfy us the way solids do, so do you really want to spend 150 calories on a drink?

What does a day of eating look like for you? Tell us what you think below.

Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.