1,200-Calorie Menus

Woman Holding Groceries

According to the calorie hypothesis, one way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in every day. Eating a balanced 1,200 calorie diet each day may help you to reach your weight loss goal. Depending on individual metabolic factors, you may lose one to two pounds per week following this type of meal plan. It is important to note, however, that for many people, 1,200 calories does not provide enough energy and nutrition. In fact, when Ancel Keys conducted the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, the caloric intake during the semi-starvation phase was 1,560 calories per day.

1,200 Calories and the USDA Nutritional Pyramid

When creating 1,200-calorie menus, the USDA recommends choosing foods based on the nutritional food pyramid that meets the requirements of most American adults. A 1,200-calorie diet using the pyramid as a guide includes the following:

  • Six ounces of lean meat or other protein
  • Five servings of complex carbohydrates
  • Four or more servings of vegetables
  • Three servings of fruit
  • Two servings of low fat dairy (one cup of milk or yogurt or one and a half ounces of reduced fat cheese)
  • Three servings of fat (one tablespoon of fats like butter, salad dressing, oil, or mayonnaise)

Creating Your Own Menus

Portion control is key in creating 1,200-calorie menus. Use the indicated serving sizes as a guide, and consider the following caloric breakdown:

  • 300-calorie breakfast
  • 100-calorie mid morning snack
  • 300-calorie lunch
  • 50-calorie mid-afternoon snack
  • 450-calorie dinner

Carefully distributing your calories throughout the day can maintain your energy while keeping you from getting hungry.

Also try these other tips for developing your own menus:

  • Eat a variety of foods to ensure you get proper nutrition.
  • When choosing fruits and vegetables, select them from across the spectrum of color to incorporate different vitamins and minerals into your diet.
  • Many people prefer eating a heavier breakfast or lunch and a lighter dinner. If this is the case, consider making your 450-calorie meal either breakfast or lunch.
  • Choose lean proteins like fish, seafood, and white-meat poultry.
  • Consider vegetable proteins such as tofu or legumes.
  • While fat tends to be more calorically dense, do not eliminate it from your diet completely. Your body needs fat for normal function.
  • Eat high-fiber foods to help keep you feeling full.

Using Commercial Calorie Control Diets

Many dieters prefer the ease of having someone else create their diet plans for them. Many commercial options exist, making calorie restriction convenient. Diets to try include the following:

The best 1200-calorie diet is one you can stick with, so opt for a diet that meets your taste preferences, budget, and time constraints.

Sample Menus

These sample menus provide you with an idea of how to create a balanced, 1200-calorie per day meal plan. Experiment with similar foods to meet your own dietary needs.

Menu One


  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 banana
  • One large shredded wheat biscuit
  • One cup skim milk

Mid-morning snack

  • Three whole-wheat crackers
  • Three ounces low-fat cottage cheese


  • Two slices whole wheat bread (check the calorie count as some breads are sliced thicker or baked in bigger loaves)
  • One tablespoon peanut butter
  • One tablespoon jelly - sugar free
  • One cup skim milk
  • One medium size orange
  • Two cups baby carrots

Mid-afternoon snack

  • Three handfuls of unbuttered popcorn, seasoned with herbs


  • Five ounces lean broiled beef
  • Small baked potato - three ounces
  • One tablespoon light margarine
  • One cup of steamed broccoli or asparagus
  • One cup of mixed greens salad
  • One tablespoon of light salad dressing

Menu Two


  • Two slices whole wheat toast
  • Two teaspoons light margarine
  • One cup sliced strawberries
  • One teaspoon sugar
  • Six ounce container yogurt - fat and sugar free

Mid-morning snack

  • Two large graham crackers
  • One teaspoon peanut butter


  • One toasted whole wheat English muffin
  • One ounce low fat cheese of your choice
  • 1/2 cup baby carrots
  • 1/2 cup light or fat free ice cream

Mid-afternoon snack

  • Two mini rice cakes
  • Two tablespoons low-fat cottage cheese


  • Three ounces lean protein
  • One medium baked sweet potato
  • Two teaspoons light margarine
  • One cup steamed broccoli

A Word of Caution

At the conclusion of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, researchers found that prolonged periods of semi-starvation of less than 1,560 calories per day caused mental issues such as depression in some of the subjects. For some people, 1,200 calories may be perfectly adequate to meet their body's needs. For others, it may not. While eating a 1,200-calorie-per-day diet can help you lose weight, maintaining this diet for a long time may be detrimental to your health. Talk with your doctor before undergoing a low-calorie diet.

1,200-Calorie Menus