Meal Options for a 1200 and 1500 Calorie Diet

Servings for a Balanced Reduced Calorie Weight Loss Diet

Eating Healthy on a Diet
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If you use a calorie level for a weight loss diet, it is common to set it at 1200 or 1500 calories. However, you want to ensure you are getting enough nutrition. One way to address that is to use a diet plan that suggests the number of servings per day from each food group.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommended the food pyramid diet for many years. The pyramid was replaced with the My Plate recommendations but it may still be useful to ensure you are not straying too far away from a nutritious diet.

Calorie Goals for Weight Loss

In order to lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you burn off each day. Sedentary women and older people who are less active may burn fewer calories per day, while active men and very active women may burn more.

You can use a daily calorie expenditure calculator to find what number may be right for your weight loss goal. If your goal is to lose weight and you do not see changes just with increased physical activity, then reducing portions and servings may help, while still using the pyramid as a guide.

The Pyramid Diet

This is the diet developed by the USDA to satisfy the nutritional requirements of most Americans.

  • 0 to 3 servings (use sparingly) fats, oils, sweets
  • 2 to 3 servings (6 to 9 ounces) of meat or other protein foods (legumes, etc.)
  • 2 to 3 servings dairy
  • 2 to 4 servings fruit
  • 3 to 5 servings vegetables
  • 6 to 11 servings bread or starches such as rice or potatoes

For weight loss, start by choosing the lower number for each food group.

Diet Precautions

These diets are weight management tools for normally healthy adults. Consult with your medical provider to see if a reduced-calorie diet is appropriate for your health before you change your diet. A registered dietitian is your best resource to counsel you on how to modify your diet for the best individual results. In the U.S., you can find a dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

A Word of Caution

People with a medical condition, diabetes, pregnant women, children under 18, and those with an eating disorder are strongly advised to seek medical advice before modifying their diet.

1200 Calorie Diet

  • 6 ounces lean meat or protein foods
  • 5 servings bread or starch
  • 3 servings fruit
  • 4 or more servings vegetables
  • 2 servings dairy
  • 3 servings fat

1500 Calorie Diet

  • 6 ounces lean meat or protein foods
  • 6 servings bread or starch
  • 4 servings fruit
  • 5 or more servings vegetables
  • 2 servings dairy
  • 3 servings fat

Keeping Track

Keeping a food diary on paper or using an app can help you understand how much you are eating and whether you are getting the nutrition you need for health. For example, entering what you eat into MyFitnessPal or Fitbit's diet tracker will analyze whether you are getting enough nutrients in each category as well as whether you are eating too many calories.

What Is a Serving?

It may not be intuitive as to how much is intended as a serving. As the portions have been distorted at restaurants and with pre-packaged foods, you will probably have to learn how much is the right amount. For example, the bagels listed on the original pyramid were probably half the size of the typical bagel seen in today's coffee shops.

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta

Whole grains are preferred as they provide needed fiber.

  • 1 slice of bread or tortilla (1 ounce)
  • 1/2 small bagel or 1/2 English muffin or 1/2 pita (1 ounce)
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta


A variety of colorful vegetables is best for nutrition and health.

  • 2 cups of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
  • 1cup of vegetable juice
  • Some diets put raw leafy vegetables into a "free use" category and say to eat as much as you want of leaf lettuce, celery, radishes


Whole fruits or 100 percent juice can add sweetness to your diet as you reduce added sugars.

  • 1 cup berries, cubed melon
  • 1 cup chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 1 cup of fruit juice
  • Apple, 1 small (2¼" diameter)
  • Banana, 1 cup sliced
  • Orange, 1 large (3" diameter)
  • Strawberries, 8 large berries

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

Both the traditional and My Plate USDA guidelines say to move to low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup plain or artificially-sweetened flavored yogurt
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1 1/2 ounces hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan)

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts

Note that the pyramid lists ounces of protein foods rather than servings. For the 1200-calorie and 1500-calorie diets, the 6 ounces would translate into two servings.

  • 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish (3 ounces is about the size of a deck of cards)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cup of cooked beans
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1 cup of nuts
  • 2 to 3 eggs


  • 1 teaspoon oil, butter, margarine, mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon salad dressing, cream cheese
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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Roberto CA, Khandpur N. Improving the design of nutrition labels to promote healthier food choices and reasonable portion sizes. Intl J Obesity. 2014;38:S25-33. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.86

  2. Mak W. The portion size debate. Perspect Public Health. 2017;137(2):87-8. doi:10.1177/1757913917691234

  3. What foods are in the Vegetable Group? USDA Choose My Plate.

  4. What foods are in the Fruit Group? USDA Choose My Plate

  5. What foods are included in the Dairy Group? USDA Choose My Plate

Additional Reading
  • What Is a Serving? American Heart Association.
  • Past Food Pyramid Materials. United States Department of Agriculture.