When it comes to losing weight, the rules are simple: Consume fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis. Subtract about 3,500 calories per week—a 500-calorie-per-day deficit—and you’ll lose 1 lbs. But for non-mathematical types who lead busy lives doing all that math and trying to figure out the calorie counts of different foods—whether eating on the run or planning meals—can be tough.
Here are a few simple, 30-day meal plan ideas for men and women trying to drop a size or four. Note: Most dieticians recommend that women trying to lose weight consume between 1,400 and 1,800 calories per day, while men should consume 2,000 to 2,300 calories. Of course, the number is largely based on factors such as age, activity level, height and build.
Balanced, Three-Meal, Two-Snack Plan
This plan—often outlined in women’s magazines such as "SELF" and "Women’s Health" and men’s books such as "Men’s Health"—is based on the idea of splitting 1,600 calories between three meals (300 to 400 calories each) and two snacks (about 200 calories each). Just be sure to load up on veggies and lean protein.
Breakfast: 1/2 cup of egg whites and two slices of whole wheat toast with one tablespoon of butter or 1 small apple with 2 tbsp. peanut butter.
Snack 1/2: 8 oz. of plain nonfat Greek yogurt; 1/2 cup berries; 1 tbsp. agave nectar or one 200-calorie protein bar (such as a Balance bar).
Lunch: Salad made with 3 cups loose romaine lettuce or spinach, four capfuls (2 tbsp.) full-fat dressing, 3 to 4 oz. of grilled chicken (about the size of a deck of cards); and 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans. Or try a large whole wheat wrap, stuffed with alfalfa sprouts, 1 tbsp. honey mustard dressing, half of a small avocado and 2 oz. of tofu or grilled steak.
Dinner: Filet of baked salmon and 4 cups of roasted vegetables (cooked in 2 tbsp. of olive oil) and half a sweet potato with a pat of butter.
The Low Carb Meal Plan
Popularized in the early 2000s by the Atkins Diet, and later, the South Beach Diet, the 30-day low-carb plan gained popularity because you don’t have to weigh and measure. One caviat: Dieters must nix bread, rice and other complex carbs (including fruit) for two weeks, bringing these carbs back into the diet slowly—in limited doses. Dieters on this plan can eat an abundance of animal protein, such as chicken and eggs, and vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and lettuce. Fats are okay, too, except for the hydrogenated kind (in processed foods). The cons: Suddenly depriving the body of carbs can lead to low energy, mood slumps, exhaustion and crankiness.
Breakfast: Omelet made with two eggs, 2 tbsp. shredded cheese, 1 cup mushooms
Snack: Cheese stick or 1 cup celery with 2 tbsp peanut butter
Lunch: Salad made with three cups of lettuce and/or other veggies; 4 oz. lean meat or fish, two tbsp creamy Caesar dressing or Asian tuna kebabs (see "Resources").
Dinner: 8 oz. of steak, 3 cups of spinach sauteed in olive oil or beef burgers with Feta and tomato (see "Resources").
The Vegan Plan
The lastest diet trend, popularized by celebs such as Alicia Silverstone is to nix meat for a trim figure (cut processed foods to get to that size 6 even more quickly, without going hungry). An added benefit: You’ll be saving the earth, too. Try this 1,800-calorie vegan meal plan from veganhealth.org’s Dina Aronson (MS, RD).
Breakfast: 1 cup scrambled tofu; two slices whole wheat bread; two wedges of raw cantaloupe; 1 tbsp. vegan margerine spread.
Snack: 4 oz. of vanilla soy yogurt; 1 tbsp. flax seed.
Lunch: Black Bean and sweet potato salad (or, try half a sweet potato with half a cup cooked black beans, plus 2 oz. of tofu for an added protein kick).
Afternoon snack: 1.5 oz. trail mix
Dinner: 1 cup cooked quinoa, one serving grilled vegetables.