Tips for Cutting Calories

Key points

  • For slow, steady weight loss, try eating foods that will fill you up without eating a lot of calories.
  • Low-fat and fiber-rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables, have few calories and can easily be incorporated into your eating patterns.
  • The following tips and substitutions can help you reduce calories.
Small bowls with fruit including raspberries, cherries, and blueberries.


For slow, steady weight loss, try to eat foods that will fill you up without eating a lot of calories. You can cut calories without being hungry by using low-fat and fiber-rich ingredients, such as vegetables or fruit. These foods are also part of a healthy eating pattern.

Take macaroni and cheese as an example. A recipe with 2 cups whole milk, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 2 ¼ cups of full-fat cheese has about 540 calories in 1 cup.

For fewer calories and less fat:

  • Use non-fat milk instead of whole milk.
  • Use 1 tablespoon of butter instead of 2.
  • Replace butter with soft margarine that has no trans fat.
  • Use 8 ounces of light cream cheese instead of full-fat cheese.
  • Add 2 cups fresh spinach.
  • Incorporate 1 cup diced tomatoes (or any other vegetable you like).

Your redesigned mac and cheese has 315 calories in 1 cup. You can eat the same amount of mac and cheese with 225 fewer calories.

A healthy eating plan

  • Offers a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  • Contains foods and beverages low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
  • Incorporates foods low in salt, sodium, and added sugars.
  • Stays within your caloric needs. You can calculate who many calories you need with the MyPlate Plan.

What foods will fill me up?

To cut calories without feeling hungry, replace some higher-calorie foods with foods that are lower in calories and fat. In general, this means foods with a lot of water and fiber.

Ideas for meals and snacks



Calories Reduced

Top your cereal with low fat or fat-free milk.

1 cup of fat-free milk instead of 1 cup of whole milk.


Use a non-stick pan and cooking spray to scramble or fry eggs.

1 spray of cooking spray instead of 1 pat of butter.




Calories Reduced

Add more vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce, tomato, and onions to a sandwich instead of extra meat or cheese.

2 slices of tomatoes, 1/4 cup of sliced cucumbers, and 2 slices of onions could replace an extra slice (3/4 ounce) of cheese and 2 slices (1 ounce) of ham.


Accompany a sandwich with salad or fruit instead of chips or french fries.

1/2 cup diced raw pineapple instead of 1-ounce bag of potato chips.


Choose vegetable-based broth soups rather than cream- or meat-based soups.

1 cup of vegetable soup instead of 1 cup cream of chicken soup.


When eating a salad, dip your fork into dressing instead of pouring lots of dressing on the salad.

1/2 tablespoon of regular ranch salad dressing instead of 2 tablespoons of regular ranch dressing.




Calories Reduced

Steam or grill vegetables rather than cooking them in butter or oil. Try lemon juice and herbs to flavor the vegetables. You can also sauté with non-stick cooking spray.

1/2 cup steamed broccoli instead of 1/2 cup broccoli sautéed in 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil.


Modify recipes to reduce the amount of fat and calories. For example, when making lasagna, use part-skim ricotta cheese instead of whole-milk ricotta cheese. Substitute shredded vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini, and spinach for some of the ground meat in lasagna.

1 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese instead of 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese.


When eating out, have a cocktail or dessert instead of both.

A 12-ounce beer has about 153 calories. A slice of apple pie (1/6 of a 8″ pie) has 277 calories.

153 if you have apple pie without the drink.
277 if you have a drink and no pie.

When having pizza, choose vegetables as toppings and just a light sprinkling of cheese instead of fatty meats.

One slice of a cheese pizza instead of one slice of a meat and cheese pizza.




Calories Reduced

Choose air-popped popcorn instead of oil-popped popcorn and unsalted, dry-roasted instead of oil-roasted nuts.

3 cups of air-popped popcorn instead of 3 cups of oil-popped popcorn.


Pack healthy snacks. Consider vegetable sticks, fresh fruit, low fat or nonfat yogurt without added sugars, or a small handful of unsalted dry-roasted nuts.

An 8-ounce container of no sugar added nonfat yogurt instead of a package of 6 peanut butter crackers.


Choose sparkling water instead of sweetened drinks or alcoholic beverages.

A bottle of carbonated water instead of a 12-ounce can of soda with sugar.


Eat fruit for a snack instead of cookies or other sweet food.

One large orange instead of 3 chocolate sandwich cookies.


Calculations performed using the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.