It might seem like there’s a weight-loss secret floating around out there that everybody knows but you. But in reality, about 80 percent of unlocking the weight-loss puzzle is choosing the right mix of filling and nutritious foods, says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
That's right, it's all about what you eat, says Cohn. (Foodies, rejoice!) But don't worry, we're not about to suggest that you spend hours slaving over the stove to nail your diet. Keeping things simple by minimizing meal prep—and planning ahead for leftovers—can help keep you on track. “I try to avoid complicating weight loss with extensive recipes,” says Cohn.
Here’s how to fill your plate to start reaching your weight-loss goals—without spending a million hours in the kitchen.
The Anatomy of Your Plate
For most young, active women, staying in the 1,600 to 1,900 daily calorie range is a good place to start, depending on your height and how much weight you’re trying to lose, says Cohn.
You’ll also need to be sure you’re eating the right proportion of macronutrients, with about 50 percent of your calories coming from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein, and 20 percent from fat, says Cohn. Yep, you heard that correctly: Half your calories can come from high-quality carbs, and you can still lose weight. “You might lose weight quickly on a low-carb diet, but the people who keep it off are eating balanced meals throughout the day,” she says. “I’d rather you take it off slower, but while you’re taking it off, you’re learning the same principles to keep it off.”
Also, keep in mind that 70 percent of your calories should be consumed by dinner. (This includes any well-balanced snacks or drinks you might add in throughout the day.) That means if you’re on a 1,800-calorie diet, approximately 1,260 of those calories should be eaten by the time you reach your evening meal. “Saving up [calories] is a metabolic no-no,” says Cohn. (The genius kitchen hack that helps you drop pounds – and get dinner on the table in record time!)
Your Weight Loss Menu
Two slices whole-grain toast
One cup 0% plain Greek yogurt
One cup strawberries
Veggie burger patty with two slices rye bread, one slice cheese, one teaspoon mayonnaise, lettuce/tomato/onion
Four ounces raw grapes on side
Stir fry with two-thirds cup brown rice, nine ounces shrimp, one tablespoon pine nuts, two cups broccoli
One small grapefruit on the side
“All the meals are based on a balance of proteins, fats, and complex carbs to optimize blood sugar, maximize fiber intake to help keep one full, and keep the variety fresh and tasty,” says Cohn. “Research shows that when we’re bored and don’t like what we’re eating, we overeat.”
One cup high-fiber cereal, two-thirds cup cottage cheese, two tablespoons flaxseeds
Four ounces pineapple
Leftovers from Sunday dinner
Leftovers from Sunday lunch
Start your work week off right with protein from your cottage cheese and slow-digesting complex carbs that will keep you fuller longer, says Cohn.
One-quarter cup uncooked oats (cooked)
One cup skim milk
Half a medium banana
Chicken salad wrapped in romaine leaves with one-quarter cup hummus, six ounces chicken breast, two teaspoons avocado, one-half cup shredded carrots
One small sliced cucumber on the side
One cup buckwheat pasta, six ounces lean beef, one tablespoon parmesan cheese, one-quarter cup marinara sauce
One-and-a-half cups mixed side salad with one tablespoon low-fat dressing
One small peach
Repeat Sunday breakfast
Leftovers from Tuesday lunch
Leftovers from Tuesday dinner
Repeat Monday breakfast
Salad with two-thirds cup chickpeas, six ounces chicken breast, one tablespoon low-fat Caesar dressing, two cups salad greens
One small green apple
Six ounces of steak marinated in Italian dressing overnight
Six ounces of baked sweet potato with one tablespoon sour cream
One cup broccoli
Four ounces of mango chunks
Not only is this day filled with totally balanced meals, but you’ll get to nom on sweet potatoes, which are delicious and high in resistant starch, says Cohn. Resistant starch is a type of fiber that is only partially digested. (In other words, you can eat more of a resistant starch food and absorb fewer calories than if you were eating the same amount of an ordinary starch.)
Repeat Tuesday breakfast
Leftovers from Thursday lunch
Egg scramble with two-thirds cup black beans, two medium eggs, four egg whites, one cup of spinach or tomato, two tablespoons avocado
Two small kiwi on the side
Eggs aren’t only for breakfast. Jazzing them up for a dinner entree can be a great way to have a meat-free meal that isn’t spaghetti.
Leftovers from Friday dinner
Quinoa salad with two-thirds cup quinoa, six ounces canned salmon, one teaspoon olive oil, three cups of spinach/onion/tomato
Four-ounce mixed fruit cup on side
Repeat Thursday dinner
Worried about having steak two nights in one week? According to Cohn, high-quality, low-fat beef can help you shed pounds. “As long as you have a good quality and watch your overall intake, beef is really nutritious,” she says.
And there you have it—a full week's worth of meals that will slim you down without driving you totally insane in terms of meal prep.