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Want to lose weight this year? Use this 7-day meal plan

This four-step plan is the perfect guide if you’re looking to gain energy, improve your overall health, and also lose weight.
/ Source: TODAY

There’s no time like the present to jump start your journey to a healthier you. This four-step plan is the perfect guide if you’re looking to gain energy, improve your overall health and also lose weight. While the delicious meals are packed with nutrition, the portion sizes are specifically designed for weight loss.

If health is your goal, but not necessarily weight loss, simply increase your portions and enjoy additional snacks (fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.) throughout the day. And always remember to drink plenty of water, flat or carbonated. Cheers to good health!

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4 steps to Joy's simple plan:

1. Choose one breakfast, lunch, and dinner option each day.

Plus one to two snacks to help keep your appetite in check. You can mix and match anything, and feel free to repeat favorite meals and snacks as often as you’d like.

2. Choose from the meal options below, or sub in additional recipes.

Each meal is carefully calculated to provide a perfect balance of lean proteins, high-quality carbs, and healthy fats to leave you feeling full and satisfied. If weight loss is your goal and you would like the option to swap in additional recipes follow these guidelines: less than 300 calories for breakfast, less than 500 calories for lunch and dinner and less than 200 calories per snack.

3. Every day, eat only within a 12-hour time frame.

For example, if breakfast starts at 8 a.m., finish dinner by 8 p.m. However, you can enjoy calorie-free beverages like water, black coffee and unsweetened tea outside of the 12-hour period.

4. Enjoy "free foods" (from the non-starchy vegetable list below) at any point during the 12-hour eating window.

Breakfast options:

Nathan Congleton / TODAY

1. Fiesta vegetable omelet: With one slice whole grain toast or one piece of fruit.

2. Muffin and protein: Choose from my zucchini-walnut or banana-almond muffins with a choice of protein: 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese, one hard-boiled egg, four hard-boiled egg whites, 1 string cheese or 6 oz. of non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt.

3. Greek yogurt parfait

4. Easiest egg 'n cheese in a mug: Plus one piece of fruit, like an orange, half of a grapefruit, or 3/4 cup of berries.

5. Oatmeal with nuts and berries

Lunch and dinner options:

Nathan Congleton/TODAY

1. Joyful salad

  • Step 1:  Start with  unlimited non-starchy  vegetables  (lettuce, bell peppers, cucumber, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, cauliflower).
  • Step 2:  Choose  two of the following  protein  options:  1/2 cup beans,  3 hard-boiled  egg whites, 3 ounces chicken, turkey, fish or tofu.
  • Step 3:  Add up to two of the following optional extras: 1/4 of an avocado, 1 tablespoon nuts or seeds, 1 tablespoon dried fruit.
  • Step 4:  Dress it up with 1-2 teaspoons of  extra virgin olive oil and  unlimited  vinegar or  lemon juice.

2. Open-faced turkey and Swiss sandwich: One slice of whole-grain bread layered with 4 ounces turkey, 1 slice of Swiss cheese, 1 tablespoon mustard or hummus, and preferred vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, onions) and raw or cooked veggies on the side. If preferred, nix the cheese and enjoy your sandwich on two slices of bread.

3. Soup and salad: Two cups of lentil, black bean, or hearty-vegetable soup and a salad layered with non-starchy veggies and dressed with 1 teaspoon olive oil and unlimited vinegar or fresh lemon juice (alternatively, you can use 2 tablespoons of low-calorie vinaigrette).

4. Hearty chili: Two cups of turkey or lentil chili. Serve with 1 dollop non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese + 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or quinoa (OR 1/2 baked potato).

Feel free to try the following recipes:

5. Chicken, fish or pork with veggies: 5 ounces of cooked fish or skinless chicken or pork tenderloin (grilled, baked or broiled) and lots of steamed, grilled or roasted veggies on the side.

6. Pizza peppers: With side salad dressed with 1 teaspoon olive oil and unlimited vinegar or fresh lemon juice .

7. Burger and veggies: Burger made from lean sirloin, turkey, quinoa or lentils. Serve on 1/2 bun with preferred veggies (lettuce, tomato, onion) and a squirt of ketchup or barbecue sauce. Enjoy with steamed or roasted veggies on the side or a salad dressed with 1 teaspoon olive oil and unlimited vinegar or fresh lemon juice (alternatively, you can use 2 tablespoons of low-calorie vinaigrette).

Feel like cooking? Try one of these recipes:

8. Cauliflower fried rice: Enjoy one to two servings of cauliflower fried rice and 4 ounces cooked protein of choice such as: shrimp, fish, chicken, tofu, pork tenderloin, lean steak or poultry sausage — or 3/4 cup cooked black beans.

9. Grilled chicken Parmesan: With steamed green beans, broccoli or sugar snap peas.

10. Curried chicken salad with green peas: With one whole-grain pita.

11. Turkey tacos: Enjoy two tacos with vegetables on the side.

Snack options:

Select one to two snacks each day:

  • Single container Greek yogurt (low-fat, nonfat, plain or flavored) +1/2 cup berries
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (shell on)
  • Apple and 1 level tablespoon nut butter
  • String cheese and orange
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (shell on)
  • Skim latte (skip sugar) and banana
  • 1/4 cup hummus and veggies
  • Celery sticks with 2 level tablespoons nut butter
  • 4 cups light popcorn (or 150 calories worth of any brand)
  • 1/4 cup (about a handful) of preferred nuts (walnuts, pecans, peanuts, almonds, shelled pistachios)
  • 1/2 cup of pistachios in the shell
  • Turkey-Bell Pepper Roll-Ups: 3 ounces turkey rolled with bell pepper sticks dipped in mustard or hot sauce
  • 1 cup steamed edamame in the pod
  • Small frozen yogurt
  • 2 rice cakes, each topped with 1 teaspoon nut butter
  • 1 cup of lentil soup

Non-starchy vegetables:

Enjoy unlimited non-starchy vegetables at any point during the 12-hour eating period (plain, raw or cooked).

  • Artichokes and artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Broccolini
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (beet greens, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, eggplant, fennel, garlic, green, onions (scallions), green beans, jicama, leeks, lettuce (all varieties)
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Peppers (all varieties)
  • Pickles
  • Pumpkin (fresh, frozen/canned — must say “100 percent pure pumpkin,” no sugar added)
  • Radicchio
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Shallots
  • Snow peas
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Sprouts (all varieties)
  • Summer (yellow) squash
  • Tomato
  • Water chestnuts
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini

We'll be checking in with everyone periodically throughout the year, so stay tuned for more recipes and healthy tips!

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