Counting calories not needed with exchange lists

You'd find these foods under the "starch" exchange list.

            When you hear the word “diet” (I don’t like that word, but that’s a subject for a future blog), do you conjure up the boring, detailed task of counting calories? Some weight-watchers do thrive on the challenge, but I’d say they’re in the minority.

            Calories – whatever their source – do count, but they don’t have to be “counted” in a regimental way. Nutrition experts and medical professionals have created what are commonly known as “exchange lists”. The various groups of healthy foods: meat/protein, starches, fruits, vegetables, dairy and fats, are divided into categories, with an average calorie count assigned to each food in that category. Say, in the fruit group, a 60-calorie serving of fruit is standard fare. So, in this list, you’d find serving sizes of fruits that equal around 60 calories; for example: half a banana, 17 grapes, a small apple, or ½ cup fruit juice.

            If you are following a plan that includes a well-balanced variety of foods from the groups comprising the basic food pyramid (see notes at bottom of my 1400-calorie chart below), you could scan the exchange lists to find a wide selection of foods to keep your meals varied. I’ve put together a day’s menu that uses the exchanges that I’ve found works for me. NOTE: I’m not a nutritionist, dietician, or health care professional; I just follow what would generally be accepted as a healthy eating plan. Many professionals encourage limiting protein choices to four to five ounces (or the equivalent) a day for those on a low-calorie diet, but personal experience has shown me that my appetite stays more satisfied with around six ounces of lean protein daily – and other professionals concur with this different viewpoint.   

            I’ll write more about this topic later, but here’s my sample “no-calorie-counting” menu:


A 1400-calorie food plan…what does that look like? (Exchange list info)

  • 6 starches (cereal, grains, pasta, rice, starchy vegetables; 70 – 80 calories)
  • 6 proteins (lean meat or fish; about 45 calories per ounce or serving) *
  • 3 fruits (small servings of fresh fruit or ½ cup fruit juice; 60 calories)
  • 4 non-starchy vegetables (½ cup cooked, 1 cup raw, ½ cup juice; 25 calories)
  • 4 fats (oil, mayo, bacon, nuts; 5 grams of fat with 45 calories)
  • 2 milks (cup of skim or 1%, or serving of non-fat yogurt**; 80-100 calories)
  • Free: items that have 20 calories or less per serving; choose up to 3 a day

* Other protein sources include cheese, dried beans, peanut butter, eggs and many soups. Serving sizes vary.


 Breakfast and mid-morning snack:

2 Starches: 1 cup Cheerios (or an egg or other protein – see supper) and a 50-calorie toast

1 Milk: 1 cup skim or 1% milk

1 Fruit: ½ banana or ½ cup fruit juice

½ Fat: 1 ½ tsp. light margarine-type spread

Free: 1 tsp. jelly or honey

 Snack: 1 fat – 10 almonds

 Lunch and mid-afternoon snack:

3 Meats/protein: 3 ounces roast chicken

1 Vegetable: 1 ½ cup lettuce-type salad

1 Vegetable: ½ cup cooked carrots or green beans

1 Bread: 1 slice bread or ½ cup potato or pasta

1 Fruit: 1 small apple (with skin) or a handful of grapes

1 to 1 ½ Fat: dressing on salad, oil used in veggie prep, spread on bread

Free: dill pickle spear; 1 cup low-sodium broth – vegetable, chicken or beef; mustard, catsup

 Snack: 1 whole graham cracker or 4 melba toasts, with ½ cup milk

 Supper and evening snack:

3 Meats/protein: 3 ounces stir-fry meat (2 ounces if you had a protein choice for breakfast)

2 Vegetables: 2 half-cup servings of stir-fry veggies – your choice

1 Starch: 1 small roll or ½ cup rice

1 Fat: 1 tsp. olive or canola oil

Free: small bowl of radishes, celery, cucumbers

 Snack: ½ cup milk and 1 slice cinnamon toast (or ¾ cup cereal with milk) OR 100 to 125-calorie (non-fatty) snack of choice

 Here are two Web sites than can help you find other foods for the exchange lists (there are countless sites, but these are very good and easy to navigate):; (go to site and type “exchange lists” into search box)

 ***Your comments are welcomed and appreciated. If there are topics you’d like to see covered, I’ll be glad to consider researching and addressing them.

Thought for today:

Calories count, but we don’t need to “count” them!



Filed under calorie reduction, counting calories, food, healthy eating, healthy weight loss, meal preparation, menu planning

4 responses to “Counting calories not needed with exchange lists

  1. Interesting concept…I like that it’s focusing on the health of the food instead of counting calories…

    • Thanks, Lisa! Some people enjoy “doing the math”, but for those who don’t, this provides an easy way to stay on track. Just wondering…did you keep a food journal while you were losing your weight? If so, how?

  2. I like this concept – sounds like the exchange lists could be really helpful. I’m really into the calorie counting though and with websites like fitday and caloriecount – it’s not so tough. It does get a little annoying sometimes, when I’m making homemade foods because I don’t have a scale, and so it’s hard to figure the nutritional information of a finished – chicken, shrimp, broccoli, with pasta and homemade sauce kind of dish…

    • Thanks, Mandy. I kinda enjoy the challenge of counting calories, but for times I’m really busy, I can just think through my day and know I’ve had x-number of breads, meats, etc, and be satisfied with that. After doing it for over a year, it’s become second nature. As for homemade dishes, if I really want to figure it, I consider how many ounces, cups, pieces, etc. of something I put in, divide it by the servings the dish provides, and have a pretty good estimate.

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