4 Meal a Day Diet Plan

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Healthy foods

Eating four meals a day for your diet plan can help you lose weight without feeling hungry. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services encourages overweight women to consume between 1,000 and 1,600 calories per day for weight loss and overweight men to consume between 1,200 calories and 1,600 calories per day to help lose excess body weight.

Pros and Cons of Eating Four Meals a Day

As with any diet plan, there are pros and cons to the four-meal per day strategy.

Pros

  • Probably won't feel hungry on this diet
  • Diet is healthy if planned properly
  • Diet is fairly non-restrictive
  • More likely to stay on the diet long-term

Cons

  • Possibility of overeating if meals aren't well-planned
  • You may need help planning your meals
  • Meals are small
  • Timing of meals may be inconvenient
  • No snacks

How to Eat Four Meals a Day

Think this strategy is for you? Follow these guidelines to eat four meals a day and lose weight.

When to Eat

Eat every three to four hours. For example:

  • First meal at 8:00 am
  • Second meal at 11:30 am
  • Third meal at 3:00 pm
  • Fourth meal at 6:30 pm

Calories in Each Meal

  • 300 calories per meal for a 1,200-calorie food plan
  • 400 calories per meal for a 1,600-calorie food plan

Best Foods to Eat

  • Whole grains
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs or soy products
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats, especially vegetable oils

Sample Meal Plans and Menus

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, provides healthy meal plans based on 1,200-calorie and 1,600-calorie diets. Using USDA meal plans can help you plan your daily weight loss menus, consisting of four meals a day. If you have questions about food groups or serving sizes when planning your menus, the USDA's MyPlate resource is a helpful tool for you.

USDA 1,200-Calorie Meal Plan

Food Groups Portion Sizes
Fruits 1 cup
Vegetables 1.5 cups
Whole grains 4 ounces
Lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds or soy products 3 ounces
Low-fat dairy products or soy milk 2.5 cups
Vegetable oils 17 grams, or about 4 teaspoons
Additional calories 121

Sample 1,200-Calorie Menu

Meal 1

  • 1 cup of dry cereal
  • 1 cup of low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup of blueberries

Meal 2

  • One slice of whole-wheat toast
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • One small apple
  • 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese

Meal 3

  • 2 cups of salad greens
  • 1 ounce of grilled chicken strips
  • 1/2 cup of croutons or one bread stick
  • 2 tablespoons of salad dressing
  • 1.5 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese

Meal 4

  • 2 ounces of grilled salmon
  • 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli
  • 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice

USDA 1,600-Calorie Meal Plan

Food Groups Portion Sizes
Fruits 1.5 cups
Vegetables 2 cups
Whole grains 5 ounces
Lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds or soy products 5 ounces
Low-fat dairy products or soy milk 3 cups
Vegetable oils 22 grams, or about 5 teaspoons
Additional calories 121

Sample 1,600-Calorie Menu

Meal 1

  • 1 cup of oatmeal prepared with 1/2 cup of low-fat milk
  • 1 cup of low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of strawberries
  • 1/2 ounce of sliced almonds

Meal 2

  • One slice of whole-wheat bread
  • 2 ounces of tuna
  • 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • One small banana
  • 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of tomato juice

Meal 3

  • One small whole-grain tortilla
  • 1 ounce of lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup of pinto beans
  • 1.5 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes

Meal 4

  • 1/2 cup of whole-wheat pasta
  • 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
  • 2 ounces of grilled chicken
  • 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of cooked green beans

Bottom Line

Talk with your doctor before beginning any type of weight loss program to make sure it's safe for you. To lose weight safely and effectively, the American Dietetic Association recommends you reduce your daily energy intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day to lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week. You can accomplish this by consuming any number of meals each day or combination of meal and snacks.

4 Meal a Day Diet Plan