While counting calories and exercising is still the best way to lose weight, it can be exhausting when done for the long term. When it comes to losing 10 pounds or more, I focus on the concept of nutrient-dense eating. This can help you lose weight without feeling deprived.

Nutrient-dense eating, or as I like to call it, “the biggest bang for your calorie buck,” compares the quantity of nutrients and the number of calories in an item. Simply stated, it means to emphasize foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, and also low in calories. Examples include fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. 

How Does It Work?

Nutrient density works as a weight loss and weight management tool because it doesn’t feel as restrictive. You still get to enjoy your favorite foods by dressing them up with nutrient-dense ingredients. This helps to increase the amount of food you can eat, while still managing your calories. When you feel full, you are better able to stick with any meal plan.

Volume and fullness are important factors in satiety. As we start to digest food, our stomach gradually expands. This sends a fullness message to the brain and therefore reduces our desire to eat. This signal is more pronounced when we are eating filling foods, usually those that contain fiber, protein, and fat. That’s why this meal plan is heavy on both fiber-rich carbohydrates and protein.

Diet and Exercise

This following meal plan is geared to help you lose 10 pounds in one to two months; that window is because everyone experiences weight loss differently. Some of us are able to make a few changes and lose weight right off the bat, while others will need more time before the weight starts to come off. I think it’s important to re-emphasize that the timeline doesn’t matter as much as the process. Making healthy lifestyle changes can take longer than more popular, quick fix approaches. Try not to get frustrated if it’s taking longer than anticipated; as long as you are making changes to your diet and being active, you will eventually reach your goal.

To make sure you do, you need to combine your new meal plan with a good exercise routine. What does that mean, exactly?

Turn up the cardio, and add in high interval training a few times a week. This balance focuses on improving cardiovascular health while boosting metabolism. Choose activities that work best for you, as you are more likely to stick with something if you enjoy doing it. For beginners, aim for about 30 minutes of cardio three times a week. For those who already exercise on a consistent basis, aim for 50 to 60 minutes of cardio, three to four times a week.

To jump-start weight loss and increase caloric burn, make it a goal to add in interval training an additional one to two days per week. Interval training means simply alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity. There are plenty of group exercise classes that follow this format, like spinning, boot camp, and specified interval classes. If you don’t have access to a class, create your own interval workout by mixing 30 seconds to two minutes of intense activity, followed by moderate recovery; repeat for 20 to 40 minutes.

As outlined above, this meal plan focuses on high-fiber, nutrient-dense eating. Feel free to use substitutes and make changes as needed. For example, if we recommend 1 cup of spinach, you can substitute with 1 cup kale, lettuce, or another vegetable.

Day 1

Day 1

Breakfast: Cereal and Fruit

  • 1 cup whole-grain, high-fiber cereal of choice with 2 cups fruit of choice. Serve with 1 cup of fat-free milk or dairy-free milk of choice.

Lunch: Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • 1 cup plus 1 apple and 1 piece string cheese. You can make it ahead of time, preparing enough for lunch again tomorrow!

Dinner: Noodle-Free Pad Thai

  • 1 serving of noodle-free Pad Thai. Get the recipe!

Snack (Anytime):

  • 1/4 cup trail mix or almonds

Day 2

Day 2

Breakfast: Veggie-Egg Scramble

  • 1 egg and 2 egg whites scrambled with 1 cup chopped spinach, 1 large diced tomato, and 1/2 cup mushrooms. Mix in 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese just before serving.

Lunch: Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • Use 1 cup quinoa tabbouleh (leftovers from yesterday) with 3 ounces of cooked, cubed chicken (or protein of choice).

Dinner: Polenta Bowl

  • 1 serving polenta bowl with roasted tomatoes and spinach (make extra for lunch the next day)

Snack (anytime):

  • 1/2 cup baby carrots with 1 tbsp. hummus

Day 3

Day 3

Breakfast: Green Smoothie

  • Blend together 1 cup almond milk or other milk, 1 cup destemmed kale leaves or baby spinach, 1 large ripe frozen banana, chopped into chunks, 1 tablespoon almond butter or peanut butter, 1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flaxseed, pinch of ground cinnamon, and 2 to 3 ice cubes.

Lunch: Polenta Bowl

  • 1 serving polenta bowl with roasted tomatoes and spinach (leftovers from last night’s dinner)

Dinner: Skinny Lasagna

Snack (Anytime):

  • 1 apple with 1 tbsp. almond butter

Day 4

Day 4

Breakfast: Cereal and Fruit

  • 1 cup whole-grain, high-fiber cereal of choice with 2 cups fruit of choice. Serve with 1 cup of fat-free milk or dairy-free milk of choice.

Lunch: Vegetarian Cobb Salad

  • Top 2 1/2 cups lettuce of choice with 1/3 cup garbanzo beans, 1/2 sliced cucumber, 1 small chopped tomato, 1/4 avocado, 1 hardboiled egg, and 1 1/2 tablespoons vinaigrette.

Dinner: Protein, Veggies, Grains

  • 3 ounces of cooked protein of choice, 1 to 2 cups cooked vegetables of choice, and 1/2 cup cooked grain of choice

Snack (Anytime):

  • 1 large grapefruit, halved and drizzled with 1 tbsp. honey

Day 5

Day 5

Breakfast: Oatmeal or Green Smoothie

  • Make 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 2 cups fruit of choice (try frozen fruit to cut down on costs; add when cooking the oatmeal). Serve with 1 cup of fat-free milk or dairy-free milk of choice.

OR Green Smoothie:

  • Blend together 1 cup almond milk or other milk, 1 cup destemmed kale leaves or baby spinach, 1 large ripe frozen banana, chopped into chunks, 1 tbsp. almond butter or peanut butter, 1 tbsp. chia seeds or ground flaxseed, pinch of ground cinnamon, and 2 to 3 ice cubes.

Lunch: Hummus Wrap

  • 1 lavash wrap topped with 1/4 cup hummus, 1 cup spinach leaves, 1/2 cup red pepper strips, 1/2 cup cucumber strips, and 1/4 cup carrot strips. Roll up and enjoy!

Dinner: Protein, Veggies, Grains

  • 3 ounces cooked protein of choice, 1 to 2 cups cooked vegetables of choice, 1/2 cup cooked grain of choice

Snack (Anytime):

  • 1 KIND bar

Day 6

Day 6

Breakfast: Veggie-Egg Scramble

  • 1 egg and 2 egg whites scrambled with 1 cup chopped spinach, 1 large, diced tomato, and 1/2 cup mushrooms. Mix in 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese just before serving.

Lunch: Smoked Turkey and White Bean Salad

  • Top 2 1/2 cups lettuce of choice with 3 ounces of smoked turkey breast, 1/2 sliced cucumber, 1/4 cup canned drained white beans, 1 small sliced pear, 10 seedless red grapes, 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped roasted walnuts, and 1 1/2 tbsp. vinaigrette.

Dinner: Rainbow Soba Noodles

Snack (Anytime):

  • 1/2 cup steamed edamame in pods

Day 7

Day 7

Breakfast: Oatmeal

  • Make 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 2 cups fruit of choice (try frozen fruit to cut down on costs and add when cooking the oatmeal). Serve with 1 cup of fat-free milk or dairy-free milk of choice. 

Lunch: Lunch Out!

  • For a grab-and-go option, head to Chipotle. Order a burrito salad bowl with black beans, fajita-style vegetables, guacamole, roasted corn-chile salsa, and tomato salsa.

Dinner: Creamy Vodka Steak Pasta

Snack (Anytime):

  • 1 container (about 6 ounces) fat-free yogurt
Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero, MA, RD is the author of Delish Knowledge. She’s also a yoga teacher and weight management specialist, with a focus on helping you develop a healthy relationship with your food, finding your “happy weight.” Follow her on Twitter @delishknowledge!