This is what your breakfast, lunch and dinner calories actually look like

If you’re a relentlessly healthy eater but find that you still can’t lose weight (or that it’s actually creeping up), it could come down to your portion sizes.

Although every person’s daily caloric intake is individual, based on their personal goals and needs, nutrition experts estimate that average daily consumption at each meal should be broken down as follows: 300 to 400 calories for breakfast, and 500 to 700 calories each for lunch and dinner. Snacks shouldn’t exceed 200 calories.

But what does that actually look like?

“On a standard-sized plate, when we’re looking at ideal lunch and dinner portions, half the plate should be filled with cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, one-quarter should be for grains, pasta and starchy vegetables, and the other quarter for meats, seafood, fish and legumes,” says Jessica Tong, a Calgary-based registered dietitian.

The problem, she says, is that most people heap on their food (and go for more afterward) and don’t realize exactly how many extra calories they’re taking in. Especially when they’re dining out.

“At a buffet, people think that if they don’t go up and fill their plate three times, they’re not getting their money’s worth. But that’s three dinners you’re eating in one sitting.”

Inevitably, the areas where people often overindulge is grains, starches and pasta. They shouldn’t be avoided (unless you have a condition that precludes you from eating them), but you have to keep the portion sizes in check because these will not only lead to weight gain but they also don’t keep you full for very long.

“If you look at a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, the pasta is the main meal and there’s only a little bit of protein on top,” Tong says. But the protein is more valuable because it will satisfy you for a longer time, preventing you from snacking later on.

The notion of satisfaction also plays into keeping a closer eye on portions, because unhealthy foods can typically be consumed faster.

“I like to think of the concept of volumetrics,” says Carolyn Berry, a registered dietitian in Vancouver. “You can eat a large volume of food, but it’s not necessarily calorie-dense. If you take the plate model [half vegetables, and one-quarter each of starches and protein], your plate is very full, which is visually satisfying. But it also takes time to eat all those vegetables, and when it takes us longer to finish a meal, it can be more satisfying.”

In other words, consider how long it takes you to eat a cheeseburger versus a plate of salmon, rice and broccoli.

The experts break down breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a few popular snacks, and give a calorie count for some of your favourite meals.


“This tends to be a lighter meal, because most people don’t want to eat something heavy first thing in the morning,” Tong says.

Aim for no more than 400 calories from multiple components, to maximize your nutrient consumption and to ensure you’re satisfied until lunch rolls around.

“Any breakfast in the 100- to 150-calorie range will be too little and you’ll run the risk of letting your hunger build and overeating throughout the latter half of the day,” she says.

An ideal breakfast looks like two slices of sprouted grain bread with half a medium avocado (350 calories), or three-quarters of a cup of plain Greek yogurt, a cup of blueberries and two large boiled eggs (350 calories).

What it doesn’t look like is a bowl of cereal.

“A one-and-a-half cup serving of Raisin Bran is 300 calories, not including milk, and contains 28 grams of sugar. That’s equivalent to seven cubes of sugar,” Tong points out. “Considering your daily intake of sugar is roughly six teaspoons, you would essentially go over your daily limit just with breakfast.”