Setting a daily calorie target makes sense for several reasons. Whether you want to lose weight, maintain your weight or find the optimal caloric range for your gender, age and lifestyle, how much you eat plays a significant role in your health. Planning menus with the right balance from a variety of foods ensures that you meet your nutritional needs without exceeding your caloric target.
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Base your caloric target on your energy needs. Your lifestyle affects your calorie needs, as do your age and gender. A 2,200-calorie diet is appropriate for active women 31 years of age and older, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA defines an active lifestyle as one that includes daily exercise comparable to a three-mile walk. A 2,200-calorie diet also meets the needs of most men between the ages of 31 and 50 who lead sedentary lifestyles, per USDA guidelines.
Planning your meals to accommodate your energy needs based on lifestyle, gender and age will help you maintain your weight. A 2,200-calorie diet can also lead to weight-loss for individuals with higher energy needs. For example, active women between the ages of 19 and 30 need 2,400 calories for weight maintenance and most active men need 2,800 to 3,000 calories to maintain their weight, according to the USDA. In these cases, a 2,200-calorie diet promotes healthy weigh loss.
The USDA recommends 2 cups of fruit daily for a 2,200-calorie diet. One cup of fruit juice or one-half cup of dried fruit counts as a serving, as does a small apple, large banana, medium grapefruit, large orange or medium pear. Aim for 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily; 2 cups of raw leafy greens constitutes a 1-cup serving, while other vegetables count cup for cup. The USDA 2,200-calorie meal plan also calls for seven servings from the grains group, 3 cups of reduced-fat milk, 6 tsp. of healthy oils, and 6 oz. from the meat and beans group daily.
When planning your meals, note that 3 oz. of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards. One egg, 1 tbsp. peanut butter or one-half oz. of nuts or seeds constitutes an ounce from the meat and beans group, according to the USDA. Examples of oils encouraged for seasoning or flavoring include olives, soft margarine, Italian dressing and oils such as canola, corn, peanut and soybean.
For breakfast, the Utah State University Extension recommends including two servings of grains flavored with 2 tsp. from the oil group and 1 cup of low-fat milk. Lunch consists of two servings of grains, one serving of fruit, 1 cup of vegetables, 2 oz. from the meat and beans group, and 2 tsp. from the oil group. For the evening meal, plan for two servings of grains, 1 cup of low-fat milk, 2 cups of vegetables, 3 oz. of lean protein and 2 tsp. of oil for seasoning. The meal plan allows for two snacks, one consisting of 1 cup of reduced-fat milk and the other including one serving from the grains group and 1 oz. of lean protein.