Counting calories can be tedious and time consuming, but it gets much easier once we familiarize ourselves with the types of foods we eat and their associated nutritional values. Meal times can be the most challenging time when you’re counting calories because it’s hard to find nutritional data tables for non-packaged foods like meats, fruits, vegetables, and bakery items. Check out the nutritional data tables page to find some of these items that you typically eat at meal time.
If you’ve just started counting calories, you may get frustrated trying to find out ways to satisfy your hunger while still trying to create a calorie deficit. Some foods will stave off hunger for hours while others will have you craving more food just minutes later. Here are some general tips and meal ideas to help you choose foods that give you the most satisfaction for the least amount of calories:
- Avoid the sugars
Foods that are high in sugar are high in calories and can leave you craving more food shortly thereafter. Sugary foods provide a quick energy source as your blood-sugar will see a quick rise, but it will drop fast, too. This will have you looking for more sugar…and more calories. Foods that are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index provide a more stable blood sugar rise and can satisfy your hunger for hours. For example, a 300-calorie oat bran & banana breakfast can keep you satisfied for 4-5 hours.
- Drink more water
If you’re counting calories, water makes for easy arithmetic. It’s one of the best things for our bodies, as it flushes out wastes, cools our system, and keeps our skin looking good…all that for 0 calories! Sodas and juices have sugars and caffeine and are not worth it. I like having soda and sometimes have to keep myself from drinking it. One way I use to trick myself into drinking less is to drink a few glasses of water before I can have a glass of soda. The water fills you up and usually drowns the craving for soda and sugars. Water has so many health benefits and it can cut out many of the empty calories in our meals!
- Soup Dinner
Soup is a great meal, especially if you’re counting calories. For a mere 250-350 calories, you can have a nice bowl of soup with vegetables, meats and even some pasta and rice. Add another 100-200 calories for crackers and your entire meal can be less than 500 calories. Try adding some soup meals into your weekly planner…it’s a great way to trim the calories.
- Watch the Carbs
Foods high in carbohydrates, like bread, rice, pasta are good foods, but the calories from these foods can really add up, especially if these foods are just the side dish. For example, a few dinner rolls could add up to over 500 calories even before you have the main course. A side serving of rice, pasta, or french fries can easily exceed the amount of calories in your main course (chicken, steak, etc…). Carbohydrates are necessary and I don’t think that cutting them from your meals is a good idea, but watch the amounts as they contribute quite a few calories to the bottom line.
- Add a Salad
A nice garden salad with a vinaigrette dressing has very few calories and can be a filling side dish for your dinner. Be careful not to overload it with croutons or creamy dressings. These add-ons can be conveniently overlooked when we’re counting calories, but I assure you that these calories count!
- Breakfast for Dinner
Some nights when it just seems like too much work to cook dinner, our family will do a breakfast night. It’s a lot of fun, easy to prepare and clean-up, and best of all…it’s a super low-calorie dinner. A bowl of cereal, banana and a glass of OJ can be a good, satisfying meal for only 400-500 total calories. Try to avoid the sugary cereals (more than 10 grams per serving), and look for types that are high in fiber…they’ll fill you up and not leave you hungry.
We need to count calories to see how to best change our habits and lose weight. It’s a good habit to start and it gets much easier as you become familiar with different foods and their serving sizes. To succeed in the long-term, it’s best to try to adopt some healthier habits that we can live with rather than force ourselves into a starvation diet. Make sure you check out the good snacks page for some low-calorie ideas for between meals.