What Does 1,200 Calories a Day Look Like?

When you’re trying to eat more healthily or lose weight, sometimes you just want someone to tell you what to eat. Following a meal plan that’s designed by a registered dietitian is a great place to start, but first you need to calculate your daily calorie goal.

How to Calculate Your Daily Calorie Goal

On a daily diet of 1,200 calories, most everyone will lose weight. By calculating your daily calorie goal, you can get a more precise look at what your calorie level should be to set yourself up for successful weight loss. This simple calculation will give you a daily calorie goal that can help you lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week.

To estimate how many calories you need each day to stay at the weight you are right now, multiply your current weight by 12.

To lose 1 pound/week: Cut 500 calories/day

To lose 2 pounds/week: Cut 1,000 calories/day


If your current weight is 160 pounds and your goal is to lose 1 pound per week:

160 [lb.] x 12 = 1,920 [calories]

1,920 [calories] – 500 [calories] = 1,420 calories

This formula is used in many clinical weight-loss trials and assumes the person using the equation is sedentary. If you’re an active person, you may find you need more calories than what you calculated to feel satisfied during the day.

The best gauge for whether you’re at the right level is how satisfied you feel (you shouldn’t be hungry all day!) and whether you’re losing weight. If you’re losing weight on 1,800 calories a day and you feel great, stick with that. The calculation is just a suggested starting point. As you lose weight, you may want to run the calorie-target calculation again, since your calorie needs will have changed.

For healthy weight loss, we don’t advise losing more than 2 pounds per week. If you calculate a daily calorie goal that’s less than 1,200, set your calorie goal at 1,200 calories. Below that, it’s hard to meet your nutrient needs or to feel satisfied enough to stick with a plan. And if you find that you’re losing too much weight too quickly, bump up your daily calorie intake to help you stay in that weight-loss zone of 1 to 2 pounds per week.

Here we show what a day’s worth of food looks like on a 1,200-calorie diet.

Take It to Go in Our Favorite Meal-Prep Containers

For Breakfast and Lunch: These leakproof glass meal-prep containers mean you don’t have to worry about your breakfast making a mess on the way to work or wherever you’re headed. (To buy: OXO Good Grips Smart Seal Containers, oxo.com, $33 for a set)

For Snacks: The same glass containers listed above can also be used for snacks like the cucumber and hummus we have here for the A.M. snack. We also love these reusable silicone Stasher Bags for packing up things like the orange slices for the afternoon snack. (To buy: Stasher Reusable Silicone Bags, target.com, $65 for 5)

Some original reporting by Nicci Micco, M.S.

Breakfast on a 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan

For breakfast, choose something between 250 and 300 calories.

Sample Breakfast:

TOTAL: 287 calories

Other breakfast ideas for a 1,200-calorie diet:

Avocado-Egg Toast (271 calories)

Blueberry-Banana Overnight Oats (285 calories)

All Greens Smoothie Bowl (270 calories)

Morning Snack

Aim to keep snacks around 50 to 100 calories.

Sample Snack:

  • 1 cup cucumber slices (16 calories)
  • 3 Tbsp. hummus (78 calories)

TOTAL: 93 calories

Other snack ideas for a 1,200-calorie diet:

Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark (34 calories)

Flourless Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins (78 calories)

Peanut Butter-Oat Energy Balls (73 calories)

Lunch on a 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan

Aim to make lunch 300 to 350 calories.

Sample Lunch:

TOTAL: 322 calories

Other lunch ideas for a 1,200-calorie diet:

Salmon-Stuffed Avocados (293 calories)

Tuna, White Bean & Dill Salad (296 calories)

Creamy Tomato Soup with Tortellini (322 calories)

Afternoon Snack

Use your afternoon snack to fill out the rest of the day’s calories.

Sample Snack:

TOTAL: 62 calories

Dinner on a 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan

Diana Chistruga

Aim to make dinner between 400 and 500 calories.

Sample Dinner:

TOTAL: 443 calories

Other dinner ideas for a 1,200-calorie diet:

Minestra Maritata (Italian Wedding Soup) (415 calories)

American Goulash (418 calories)

Black Bean-Quinoa Bowl (500 calories)

Daily Total: 1,208 calories, 60 g protein, 158 g carbohydrates, 38 g fiber, 45 g fat, 1,190 mg sodium.

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