Now that you’ve determined your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), also known as your maintenance calories, you should have an idea of how many calories you should eat in a day to provide your body with the nutrients and energy it needs.

Each body is different. Planning your low calorie meals around the calories you need to consume to achieve your particular goals will depend on whether or not you have recently undergone, or are about to undergo bariatric surgery. If this is the case, take a look at the chart below for a recommended post-op meal plan. As a postoperative bariatric patient, you’ll want to eat many small meals a day, focusing on portion sizes. And, remember, eat protein first!

2–6 weeks (post-op)5–6 small meals a day¼ – ½ cup of mostly protein, per meal
6 weeks –  6 months5–6 small meals a day½ cup of protein, ¼ of vegetables
6 months – 1 year5–6 small meals a day¾ cup of protein, ¼ cup of vegetables
1 year maintenance5–6 small meals a day1 cup protein, ¼ – ½ cup vegetables

If you’re looking for low calorie meal ideas—and bariatric surgery is not an integral part of your health considerations at this time—you’ll want to calculate a baseline number of calories (keeping in mind your TDEE) and then subtract, say 500 calories, from that. This will allow you to target a goal of consuming 3,500 fewer calories per week, thereby losing 1–2 lbs in the stretch of seven days. 

Once you understand how many calories you need to aim for, the next step is to start planning your meals and gathering the necessary ingredients. Here are a few low calorie meals you can add to your meal plan.

Quick and Healthy Low calorie Meal Ideas

To get you started, and assuming you may want to batch-cook some of these meals, we’ve organized these low calorie meal ideas by schedule: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Note that calorie quantities will vary depending on portion size and how you cook the meals.

Breakfast

  • avocado and eggs with black beans = 356 calories per serving
  • breakfast burrito = 366 calories per serving
  • banana pancakes = 243 calories per serving

Lunch

  • vegan pasta salad with tzatziki sauce = 496 calories per serving
  • falafel bowl = 380 calories per serving
  • potato frittata = 317 calories per serving

Dinner

  • spinach, chickpea, and potato curry = 224 calories per serving
  • raw vegan spring rolls with avocado = 350 calories per 4 spring rolls
  • minestrone (can also be vegan and gluten-free) = 362 calories per serving

Snacks

  • apple slices and 2 tablespoons of caramel (as a dip) = 200 calories per serving
  • ½ cup roasted chickpeas with salt and pepper = 150 calories per serving
  • ½ avocado on one slice of toast. Calories = 250 calories per serving

Some Delicious Ideas that Take More Time

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous or even ambitious, low calorie meals are a perfect opportunity to expand not just your palate but also your culinary skills. Here are a few ideas of additional, scrumptious options worth trying.

  • eggplant, lentils, and curry (aubergine dhansak) = 259 calories per serving
  • vegan Moroccan tagine = 187 calories per serving
  • cauliflower soufflé = 190 calories per serving

Low calorie Meals: Grocery List

Your weekly grocery list will depend entirely on the low calorie meals you select for your meals. First, create your meal plan and then base your shopping list off of that.

Generally speaking, your low calorie grocery list should include things like:

  • fresh vegetables: brussels sprouts, peppers, spinach, carrots, kale, onions
  • Frozen vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, collards
  • fresh fruit: apples, bananas, grapefruit, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and other low calorie fruits
  • dried fruit (in moderation): apricots, figs, prunes, raisins, cranberries
  • nuts (in moderation): almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios seeds: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, whole or ground flaxseeds
  • carbohydrates: rice noodles, rice paper, pita pockets, whole-grain flour tortillas, brown rice, quinoa, whole- or multigrain cereals, steel-cut oatmeal, protein bars with fewer than 5 grams of net carbs and more than 10 grams of protein (Quest, One, Pure Protein)
  • favorite sauces and condiments to use in moderation with meals (due to high caloric content, avoid mayonnaise and ketchup, if possible), hot sauce, apple cider vinegar, regular vinegar
  • meat and fish: salmon, trout, skinless chicken/turkey breasts, 
  • fats: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, or cooking spray
  • canned goods like whole peeled tomatoes and low-sodium broths to include in soups and sauces, plus black, kidney, and garbanzo beans, lentils, split peas
  • other: Greek yogurt, eggs or egg substitutes, tofu, hummus, olives
  • dark chocolate pieces (containing more than 70% cacao)
  • teas

Tips for Making Low calorie Prep Meals

As you prepare your low calorie meals, here are a few additional tips to consider that will reduce the use of unnecessary calories.

Using a Kitchen Scale and Tracking Your Calories in a Food Journal

If you want to be accurate about how many calories you’re consuming, you should weigh your ingredients before cooking and include these amounts in your food journal. A kitchen scale is handy at the beginning when you’re less familiar with the quantities and components of the ingredients you’re using in your recipes.

Reducing Your Use of Fats

As you prepare your low calorie meals, use oils and fats sparingly. Surprisingly, you need much less than you think to flavor a meal or salad. 

For instance, if you’re making a stir-fried veggie dish, simply use less oil in the pan. You can even avoid oil entirely by adding salt and a little water to the veggie you cook or sautée first, which are often onions. This healthy approach is used in plant-based, whole-food-style dieting.

Batch Cooking

One of the main reasons people give up on calorie counting is because you end up cooking at home quite a bit, which requires more time and planning if you’re not used to it. While there are convenient low calorie meal delivery services, not everyone can afford these.

To make life easier, you should consider batch cooking for the more elaborate meals. For instance, breakfast might be simple enough to prep, but lunch and dinner might be more time-consuming. 

Prepare these meals on a Sunday, pack them up in containers, label, freeze, or refrigerate themɘ—that’s it! Don’t bother freezing your upcoming meals (Monday and Tuesday); just store those in the fridge.

Avoiding or Replacing Calorie-rich Ingredients

Low calorie meals generally don’t include calorie-rich foods. As you brainstorm meal ideas and prep your meals, try to reduce or substitute calorie-rich ingredients for other less calorie-dense ones. Remember that your body still needs the right nutrients to stay healthy and perform all of its necessary functions.

A final tip as you embark on the low calorie journey is: always be aware of portion size. Tonight’s low calorie dinner may fall below your daily caloric threshold, but if you go for seconds, will that still be the case?

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