Americans are eating way more calories than recommended and you may be surprised to discover that a sweet tooth isn't the only thing to blame.
While the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day (which amounts to an extra 350 of empty calories), it isn't just our penchant for snacking on sugary blueberry muffins that's the problem. What we have for our main meals contributes to weight problems too.
From pizzas and pasta to beef and dairy-laden dishes, our typical lunch and dinner choices often mean we're packing in more than the recommended daily intake of 1,500 to 2,500 calories.
While having a low-calorie breakfast can go a long way in helping you lose weight, sticking to 100-calorie meals for lunch or dinner will also help to reduce your overall calorie count.
But before you think we've relegated you to a life of carrot sticks and lemon water, don't fret. Schoolyard Snacks is all about making food healthy and fun, so we have a list of tasty and wholesome 100-calorie meals just for you.
Making Your Calories Count
Before we share some of our favorite 100-calorie meal ideas, we thought you'd like to know that not all calories are created equal.
While a calorie is a calorie, what you choose to make up those calories can make a huge difference in your health. Here are a few top tips to make your calories count.
Avoid Added Sugar
As mentioned, added sugar is nothing but empty calories, which means it provides no health benefits whatsoever. The bad news doesn't end there. Evidence suggests that consuming too much added sugar increases the risk of weight gain and diabetes.
Natural sugars (the type you find in fruit) are a better option because fruit also has lots of nutrients that are necessary for good health. Some research even shows that eating whole fruits reduces the risk of dying from cancer, obesity, and heart disease.
While it’s wise to reduce your added sugar intake, it’s just as important to be on the lookout for artificial sweeteners, which are also bad for your health. These additives tend to lurk in sugar-free foods, so be diligent about reading ingredient lists to see if they're naturally sweetened by low- or zero-glycemic alternatives, such as stevia or monk fruit.
Go for Protein
If you're faced with two meals with the same calorie count but different protein levels, go with the high-protein option. This is because high-protein foods play a crucial role in helping you feel full — and stay full. Protein can also encourage you to make better food choices throughout the day and reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides levels.
Because of protein's ability to help you feel full, you likely won't want to eat as much as you might otherwise. This means when you choose a low-fat, high-protein option, you'll have calories to spare for other meals and snacks throughout the day.
Watch Your Portion Size
Any low-calorie meal will become high-calorie if you have a copious amount of it. So before you serve yourself a dish of anything, be sure to stick to the recommended portion size. If you find that determining exact portions is tricky, consider using resources such as the USDA’s MyPlate online tools.
100-Calorie Meals You'll Love
While it's important to keep your calorie intake low to help you maintain or lose weight, we're strong believers that you should never, ever compromise on taste while doing so. To that end, here are some easy, low-calorie, highly delicious meals to add to your weekly routine.
1. Cucumber, Avocado, and Tomato Salad
Image: Slender Kitchen
Think salad's boring? That's because you haven't met this flavor-filled dish yet. Seasoned with lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper, this recipe for cucumber, avocado, and tomato salad will get your taste buds dancing.
To up your protein, add some chicken or edamame. If you're vegan, go for black beans, chickpeas, or cannellini beans. You could even spice things up with chopped fresh jalapenos or red pepper flakes.
2. Low-Calorie Healthy Hummus
Image: Nic's Nutrition
OK, you probably wouldn't want to have hummus as a meal in itself, but it could be what transforms your quick lunch (or low-calorie snack) from blah to yum.
This low-calorie hummus is so versatile, the options are endless with how you can enjoy it during a meal. Use it as a spread for a sandwich or wrap, or simply use it as a dip for veggies such as cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower. You could also serve it with fresh pita bread, homemade baked tortilla chips, or pretzels.
3. Zucchini and Feta Fritters
Image: Cooking LSL
The beauty about these savory fritters is that they're oven-baked, not fried, making them a far healthier and lower-fat option. This also means they're moist on the inside, lightly crunchy on the outside, and not greasy.
The recipe offers gluten-free and egg-free variations, and the fritters can be frozen for up to three months. Make your own dipping sauce with Greek yogurt, garlic, and dill for a divine eating experience.
4. Healthy Strawberry Smoothie
Image: Li’L Vienna
Looking for something quick and easy that you can eat with just one hand? Well then, say hello to this healthy strawberry smoothie. There are just three ingredients in this smoothie recipe that makes for a perfect breakfast on the go, quick lunch, or refreshing snack between meetings. It's cool, fruity, and oh-so good for you.
5. Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
Image: Spark Recipes
Mushrooms are loaded with protein and fiber, which make for filling 100-calorie meals. Not only that, mushrooms also contain B vitamins and antioxidants that support the immune system and prevent damage to cells and tissues. This stuffed mushroom recipe also has parmesan and cheddar cheese to increase the protein content.
6. 100-Calorie Cheese, Vegetable, and Egg Muffins
Image: Averie Cooks
What's better than a plain old hard boiled egg? Eggs cooked into muffin form, that's what. With about 50 calories per muffin, this egg muffin recipe is a great combination of protein and fiber to help you feel full for longer.
While this version uses carrots, orange peppers, frozen peas, and corn, you could customize your own egg muffin. Shredded sweet potatoes, kale, or asparagus are all nutritious and delicious options, or you could use whatever produce is in your fridge.
7. 100-Calorie Vegetable Zoodle Soup
Image: Joe Cross
Love noodles but not a big fan of carbs? Well, neither are we, which is why we thought this was a genius dish. This zoodle soup turns zucchini into noodleas, which lowers the calorie count and raises the veggie quotient. How's that for clever? Make this on a cold night or whenever you feel like soup.
8. Citrus Couscous Salad With Pistachios
Image: Simple Nourished Living
Perfect as a light lunch or a side dish, this couscous is cooked in orange juice for that little bit of zing, especially if you like a little sweetness in your meals.
Mix in chopped cucumber, dried apricots, scallions, mint, and pistachios and you get a vibrant dish filled with different textures and flavors. If you can't find whole wheat couscous, simply substitute with plain.
Your Sweet and Crunchy 100-Calorie Meal Is Here
With absolutely no sugar, just one carb gram, 12 grams of protein, and a perfect 100 calories per serving, Schoolyard Snacks is sure to be one of your go-to options especially when you're in a hurry. And we don't just mean for breakfast.
Naturally sweetened by monk fruit, our crunchy cereal is great at lunchtime, dinnertime, or any time you're in the mood for a healthy, sugar-free snack. Oh, did we mention it's gluten-free and made with all-natural, non-GMO ingredients with no artificial sweeteners or colors?
Aside from all of that, it’s also ridiculously convenient because we’ll ship it straight to your door. So go ahead and give it a try. We’re betting it will become one of your favorite 100-calorie meals in no time. But don’t just take our word for it — check out these user reviews from people like you.