What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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If you’ve ever inspected the back of a Nutrition Facts label, you’ve probably noticed the phrase “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.” The FDA settled on this number after analyzing food consumption data from American men and women and children. Survey results revealed an average daily intake of about 2,350 calories but for various reasons (worry about overconsumption being one of them), the FDA rounded down to 2,000 as the standard reference for Nutrition Facts labels.

So who might be someone who needs 2,000 calories a day? Calorie intake is dependent on various factors like gender, age, weight and activity level, but this calorie goal suits a wide variety of people — all the way from a woman in her mid-20s who exercises moderately 3–5 times per week, to an overweight, middle-aged man who is trying to lose a pound per week.

If you think you fall into this spectrum, see what that amount of healthy, nutrient-rich meals and snacks might look like. (Scroll to the bottom for how to make lunch and dinner.)

Discover and log these recipes and more in the MyFitnessPal app!

What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > Before you start your 2,000 calorie diet, check out this sample meal plan from @MyFitnessPal.

What 2,000 Calories Looks Like


Loaded Greek Salad: 3 cups romaine lettuce, 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced bell pepper, 1/4 cup diced cucumber, 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, 2 tablespoons diced red onion, 8 pitted Kalamata olives. Dressing: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, black pepper to taste.

Burrito bowl: 3 ounces grilled chicken breast (chopped or shredded), 2 cups chopped romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup cooked long-grain brown rice, 1/4 cup diced bell pepper, 1/4 cup corn, 1/4 cup diced avocado, 1/4 cup black beans, drained and rinsed, 2 tablespoons diced red onion, 1/4 lime (sliced), 2 tablespoons full-fat sour cream, 1/4 cup fresh salsa.


Like what you see but don’t quite have 2,000 calories in your budget? Stick to what’s pictured for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a delicious and satisfying 1,500-calorie day.

Originally published June 2017, updated with additional reporting

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.


58 responses to “What 2,000 Calories Looks Like”

  1. Avatar Thomas H. Groendal says:

    This would be much more effective if you also included some bad examples. Like one bag of doritos, just to show how much more bang for your buck you get when eating good food.

  2. Avatar Brent Jenny says:

    Might want to check the protein count in the burrito bowl. Seems kinda low since 3 ounces of grilled chicken should be about 20 grams

  3. Avatar Xeos says:

    Ugh those carbs. Terrible!

  4. Avatar Bob says:

    This is another example of so called “nutritionist” who espouse really bad, outdated advise. A diet screaming with carbs, especially sugars! No wonder America is dying of obesity, diabetes, and, heart disease. It’s because people listen to these “experts!”

    • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

      Yeah, because people get diabetes because of a little honey and a couple of fruits.
      Sure, the list above is the problem, not the fact that so many people opt for a bucket of ice cream and candy bars instead.

      • Avatar Frid Kun says:

        the list is extremely unhelpful though.

        • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

          You forgot to add “in my opinion”.

          • Avatar Frid Kun says:

            Can you imagine any person who would change his food habit to more healthy ones because of this list? It is supposed to be the primary goal of this article.

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            Absolutely, i can. Newsflash, you don’t have to go low-carb or keto to be healthy. Carbs are not the devil, especially if you’re active .
            Of course, different people respond differently to certain macros. But again, the honey and fruit in the list is a million times better than the ‘standard’ milkshake /twinkie / snickers etc people consume daily.

          • Avatar Frid Kun says:

            I don’t have problem with carbs. I have problem with pretentious unsatisfying food that seemingly takes hours per day to prepare presented as alternative. I would like to eat healthier, but my thoughts on this article is “those healthy food cultists are fucking crazy if they expect normal people to eat like this.”

          • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

            Ermm, apart from the chicken and maybe the beans which you can batch-prepare to save time, how does cutting a couple of fruits and serving some yogurt take hours?? If this seems long, try some more complex dishes with fish, meat and vegetables ,let me know how much time that takes you 😀
            Seriously though ,whatever the macros, you have to get involved and maybe spend some time in your own kitchen when you try to eat healthy.

          • Avatar Jérémy CB says:

            Ermm, apart from the chicken and maybe the beans which you can batch-prepare to save time, how does cutting a couple of fruits and serving some yogurt take hours?

            LOL, right man!!!!!

          • Avatar Nikki says:

            I see where you’re coming from, but eventually after you see a whole bunch of articles like this, you think “you know what, I have nothing to lose, I might as well give it a try” and soon enough you come across a recipe that you like, and then another and eventually, you fall in love with this kind of food (in my experience). Sure, healthier food options aren’t generally as quick and easy to grab as unhealthier options however that’s just a fact you have to deal with. If you’re someone like me, you might also come to love the process of meal prep but if you don’t enjoy spending so much time preparing or simply don’t have enough time, then I can understand how it may seem bothersome. I think it’s more so the repetition of these articles that encourages people as opposed to the single article. Additionally, the list isn’t necessarily directed for people who don’t eat healthy but want to eat healthy, it’s also targeted at people who have a healthy diet and just want some ideas. I’d say the primary goal of the article is more to give people a rough idea of what a full day of healthier meals and snacks (2000 calories) would like like, as the title suggests rather than convince people people to switch diets although this article could definitely provide incentive for some people, it isn’t really trying to persuade anyone.

          • Avatar Jérémy CB says:

            I am a normal guy and I eat like this …

          • Avatar Frid Kun says:

            My scientologist uncle also describes himself as normal.

    • Avatar Grace Knight says:

      Bob, do you recommend low carb? I’m changing my eating habits and from all the reading I’ve done, low carb is the healthiest way. What do you think?

      • Avatar James Elliott says:

        Depends on your desired results. Keto diets can do well just for burning mass, but they tend to be harsh on muscle growth as well and can take a long time to get accustomed to. Most macronutrient calculators will advise for a 45%/45%/10% diet (carb pro fat). It is best to get a PT or nutritionist to customize a plan that is going to work for you though depending on your needs. Additionally it all needs to be calculated on your basal metabolic rate to ensure you’re eating the right number of calories in general so you’re in deficit.

        Low carb diets work for some people not others.

    • Avatar Jessica says:

      Are you an expert?

    • Avatar Carmen says:

      Nothing wrong with carbs especially if you’re trying to train hard and grow some muscle.

  5. Avatar TMP says:

    That’s such a pretentious article. No one that eats bad and reads this is going to change anything. If you want to change people’s habits you have to show them a reasonable alternative.

    • Avatar JWIII says:

      What isn’t reasonable about the meals shown? The fact that it requires a little effort on the part of the end user? Eating healthy is a lifestyle change for most people these days. It’s going to take a conscious effort and some work. What people need is a real education on food not a “reasonable alternative”. No sense in doing it halfway and making excuses for people before they even start.

  6. Avatar Gold Stars says:

    If this is what this author thinks people should eat for their 2,000 calories, then to hell with that! It is not hard to eat 2,000 calories of much better tasting food than this crap and still eat healthier than she is suggesting!

  7. Avatar Paige says:

    Everyone who is shaming the carbohydrate amount should consider the large amounts of fiber that are found in each meal/snack. Fiber is an important carbohydrate that regulates insulin and your appetite. While it may seem like a lot of carbs, these foods are packed with nutrients that are far more beneficial than eating 2000 calories of processed foods. We tend to categorize foods as “good or bad” when in reality we need an array of all foods, INCLUDING carbs. Also, yes you do need carbs to fuel your brain and your muscles during exercise. While this spread of choices may not be realistic/appetizing for everyone, it’s a great representation of how much you can get in wholesome foods for 2000 kcals.

  8. Avatar me says:

    why so many carbs?

  9. Avatar Sharon says:

    My trainer says to eat fruit in the morning only, like an apple. Also, eat good fats like avocado. Last but not least, you have a 12 hr window to eat. He said drink all the water you want in the morning (and only water), anything else starts the 12hr window. If you start drinking coffee at 6am, you have to stop everything at 6pm, except water. I don’t eat bread, rice, potatoes, chips..etc

  10. Avatar Khairun Memon says:

    Perfect low carb meal if I cut out the pita, toast and tortilla chips, and don’t need the sour cream either. That cuts out about 250-300 cals.

  11. Avatar Chris Mark says:

    1.5 cups of raspberries would be about $12AUD for one person.
    That’s not feasible and ultimately proves that someone is going to have a $2 icecream if making the choice is based on cost alone

  12. Avatar Mike Smith says:

    Well this has put me right off food! I thought I was clicking a link to see what everyday, balanced daily meals would look like, not this rubbish.

  13. Avatar Richard Bowman says:

    I dont have a problem with the 1800 calories/day, but as a type-1 diabetic cyclist and bootcamp ‘user’ I also carb count while observing the 10% carb / 45% fat /45% protein rule. I doubt I am not the only one that would like more insight on this, either from MFP or others using the app. Thnx

    • Avatar Megan Trotter-Bissett says:

      Yea definitely not a lot of lower carb info out there for type ones (par lots of keto stuff). I am also type one did the 10% c/45%f/45%p and never had such bad blood sugars in my life (HbA1c was the worst it has ever been in the 13 years of being a diabetic). My training went to absolute crap too, so now I am more a 35% C/30%f/35%p sort of girl.

  14. Avatar Andrew Green says:

    What about these of us who don’t like salad and weird things like feta cheese and black beans? What would 2000 calories look like in normal, meat, two veg, potatoes and bread and butter?

  15. Avatar Tony Marson says:

    Working on the given knowledge that carbs and protein are worth 4 calories per gram and fats are 9 calories per gram all of the meal calorie calculations stated seem to be incorrect

  16. Avatar hitched wedding films says:

    Calories is calories. IF and sink 2000 on training days and 1700 on non training days on a mix of yummy food works for me and its easy in 8 hour eating window!

  17. Avatar Mike Richards says:


  18. Avatar Mihai says:

    I personally recommend cycling carbs or even calories if you do not want to get so “obsessed” For example, on my work days with gym and work I eat around 2700 kcal which are made of 180g protein 260g carbs and 90g fat, while on my days that I rest I eat around 190g of protein, around 180g carbs and the rest fat. This is what I eat on a cut. Also, on the lazy days when I just take a slow walk I eat around 2300 kcal and try to low my carbs as much as possible whilst maintaining fat and protein.

  19. Avatar Ingrid Khajeh says:

    Yes Bob get off the out dated band wagon.
    As said previously, There is nothing wrong with the right carbs IF you are active and or exercising. Carbs are back in bro. Not sugar and ice cream carbs, GOOD carbs.
    Whether you like it or not your body and espescially your brain runs on carbs. Body will run on ketones for only so long.

  20. Avatar BriannG says:

    I won’t add it up now, but the cost of this menu for my small family of three would be impossible with our income. No we don’t have cable tv.

  21. Avatar Dianna McIntosh says:

    Fruit juice is generally left out as many nutritionists contend that people get less satisfaction from drinking their calories than by chewing them. Personally, I would rather eat an orange than drink a glass of orange juice (even if it was fresh squeezed).

  22. Avatar Kaiser says:

    Can you come up with a low-carb diet? Maybe 2000 calories? And maybe something more friendly for men? We eat differently than women do. I’m not going to spend a lot of time making the foods that you show. I’m a ‘down and dirty’ kind of a guy that wants to eat healthy but not spend a long time preparing my meals.

  23. Avatar Katie says:

    I think this is a great meal plan for a healthy lifestyle. Fruit has a lot more in it than sugar such as antioxidants, natural source of vitamins and fiber. American’s are putting too much emphasis on protein in their diet and restrictions on carbs. More than 30 grams of protein per meal is hard on the kidneys because there is a lot of nitrogen in meats. I like that this meal had a variety of protein sources that included plant based proteins. Keep up the great suggestions for a healthy lifestyle rather than a quick weight loss diet. I love this website’s articles and emails.

  24. Avatar Matt Young says:

    82 grams of fat (good or bad fats) is to high.

  25. Avatar disqus_JvqooPe0Vu says:

    The fat to protein ratio is horrendous. Less fat, more protein. That isn’t a good diet.

  26. Avatar Silver Gemini says:

    It’s interesting to me about how everyone is going on and on about carbs. If you want a nice low carb diet, stick to water and grass. Ha! Bad joke I know. Anyway, I’ve be shifting my eating habits under the supervision of a dietician. I have a difficult time reaching the 2000 calories she wants me to eat in a day, and looking at the main meals makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong. Despite being morbidly obese, I’ve found myself unable to even eat as much pictured in the lunch or dinner “meals” here. No weight loss surgery either. As far as the carb issues go, I don’t even look at those nor has my dietician even brought it up. She is more concerned about me getting a balanced meal than counting carbs. The biggest thing I have trouble with is getting enough protein. :/

  27. Avatar Ewa Kirkor says:

    There are several problems with the presentation of the nutrients in the 2000 calories. The macro analytics on the presented food portions is often grossly erroneous , the most egregious example is the the chicken salad listing 18 g of fiber and 2 g of protein – where is the chicken?
    Moreover, the ballpark of total fats is about 65 g/day for the 2000 Cal diet. The example lists a lot more!
    Also, the diet needs to have adequate amounts of nutrients – but for whom? If it is your average height female – this will lead to different distribution dependent on the level of activity; the sedentary, middle-aged one may be fine with about 0.4 g of protein for a pound of body weight; let her exercise vigorously 3 to 6 hours a week – the daily amount of protein in the diet may need to increase by 50%. Once she works out vigorously 6 to 9 hours a week – this amount will need to double. If she wants to build muscle via resistance training 1 g per lbs of body weight is not too much.

    And at last – the carbohydrates – the recommended daily minimum is about 120 of all carbohydrates. The American Diabetic Association posits that 160 grams total carbohydrates in a diet ( including no more than 60 g of simple sugars) allows for control of blood sugar. With huge numbers of individuals with metabolic syndrome or on the way to it, this is one way to get things under control. One may safely use more carbohydrates if one is not leading a sedentary lifestyle, but remember that about 80% of adult population of the US is sedentary. So most of us do not need a lot of carbs, and if you do not like broccoli – there are Brussels sprouts, various cabbages, lettuces, spinach, cucumbers, celery, green beans, asparagus – the green kind, and then there are the colorful ones – the tomato, carrot, peppers, and on and on…

    But where is the fruit? Some is nice to have; berries, apples; use with caution grapes, watermelon, pineapple, mangoes and other very sweet fruit. 1 serving prior to a work-out is the way to fuel yourself for it. But more – do you really need it? No, but occasionally (like maybe once a week) let yourself have a small treat of your choice.

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