How to Count the Calories in Home-Cooked Meals

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How Many Calories Will You Eat Today?

To effectively count (and cut) your calories, you need to know how many calories are in the food you're eating. This sounds simple, but it's not. You will need some help and advice to get familiar with the process of tracking your intake, calculating the calories, and understanding how your body reacts to certain foods.

Changing your body from fat to lean takes time, patience, and determination. There is simply no quick or easy way to lose a meaningful amount of fat. Many people have made a lot of money convincing people otherwise, but after a while you begin to see the truth about fat loss: it takes serious time and serious effort.

This article will offer you some real-world help and advice with your determination to cut fat, keep muscle, and get healthy. As a (somewhat) older man who has had success in getting lean and staying healthy, I speak from experience.

After a lifetime of losing and gaining weight, I get it. No matter how you slice it, weight loss comes down to the simple formula of calories in, calories out.

— Valerie Bertinelli

Video

Simple 1600-Calorie Meal Plan

Breakfast

Calories 303.7, Fats: 14.8g, Carbs: 32.3g, Protein: 11.4g 

Lunch

  • 1 Servings of Southwestern Eggs
  • 1 Apple

Calories: 350.4, Fats: 18.6g, Carbs: 28.3g, Protein: 19.4g

Dinner

  • 1 Servings of Blueberry protein pudding 
  • Calories: 349.1, Fat: 3g, Carbs: 21.6 g, Protein: 58.5g

Snack

  • 1 cinnamon banana mug cake
  • 1 banana nut oatmeal

Calories: 597.7  Fat: 26g, Carbs: 78.3g, Protein:  21.7g

Total Calories for the day: 1601

Breakfast

  • Scrambled Eggsadilla

330 calories

Lunch

  • Pork with Veggies

370 calories

Dinner

  • Winter Sausage and Lentil Salad

390 calories

Snack

  • 1 Starbucks tall 2 percent milk latte
  • 1 banana
  • 2 Keebler Sandies Cookies

 420 calories

Total Calories for the day: 1510 

Breakfast

  • Spicy Breakfast Tacos 

293 calories

Lunch

  • Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Panini 

231 calories

Dinner

  • Healthier Slow Cooker Texas Roadhouse Chili for Two 

324 calories

Snack

  • Skinny Cheeseburger Boats 

237 calories

  • Asparagus, Cherry Tomato, and Feta Tart 

319 calories

  • Chai Spiced Candied Nuts

213 calories

Total Calories for the day: 1617

That is an example of a simple 1600-calorie meal plan. You can modify your diet as you wish. There are people who would prefer to go for three 500 calorie meals and one 100 calorie snack. Others would rather go for three meals and two snacks. How you divide your 1600 calories does not really matter. What matters is making sure you only consume 1600 calories in a day.

Using different restaurants to help you estimate

This strategy is far from perfect, but it’s

This strategy is far from perfect, but it’s my favorite way to estimate calories when eating out at restaurants. It’s what I’ve used to successfully estimate Donut Calories.

What I like to do is find two (or three) comparable dishes from chains or large restaurants that have their nutritional information available online.

I’ll take the two calorie counts of the comparable dish from those restaurants, then find the average to use that as my estimate.

Let’s look at the Cheeseburger as an example.

I don’t use fast food restaurants McDonald’s or Burger King to estimate the calories, because a restaurant-style burger is very different from fast food burgers. When you get fast food, the burger patties are typically MUCH smaller than those at restauranrs. Instead, I found two burger joints in New York with popular cheeseburgers: BurgerFi and Bareburger.

The cheeseburger from BurgerFi has 650 calories, while the cheeseburger from Bareburger has 760 calories.

If I were ordering a cheeseburger at a local burger spot, I’d estimate roughly 760 calories- right down the middle of those two examples I found.

What to do if the examples you find are drastically different

If the range was gigantic in the comparable foods I found, I would seek out a third option.

Let’s say I found one cheeseburger that was 400 calories, and another that was 1,000 calories. That’s a huge range, so just splitting the difference feels like it’s going to be way off.

Instead, I seek out a third option. If we find that the third option is 800 calories, then I would use 800 calories and 1,000 calories as my two options instead.

How accurate will this method be?

It’s impossible to say how close these estimates will be to the actual calories in these restaurant foods.

There are just too many factors to definitively say.

Sticking with the cheeseburger example, there are countless variables that affect the calories: type of beef, type of cheese, if the bun is buttered, which sauces are used, how large the patty is, etc.

The burger that you estimated to have 760 calories may have 1,000 calories, meaning you’re missing over 200 calories from your count!

But the name of the game is estimating. 

We do not need perfection! All we want to do is be in the ballpark. I mean, the alternative would be taking a completely blind guess. If you had no idea, and you guessed that a cheeseburger was 300 calories, you’d be in a worse position.

Estimating will never be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.

It’s only one meal, after all! It’s totally okay if your calories aren’t exactly what you wanted them to be.

Tips for Success

There are several different ways to streamline the calorie counting process so that you get an accurate number each day.

Use Tech Tools to Your Advantage

Don’t rely on memory to recall the food you consumed during the day. Even if you can recall what you ate, it is nearly impossible to remember how much you ate with any accuracy. You’re not likely to get a precise calorie number if your food journal is incomplete or if serving sizes are wrong.

Instead, consider using a calorie-tracking app on your smartphone. Record the calories in your meal before you sit down to eat. You can also use a small notebook that you throw in your purse. The point is to have a calorie tracking method that goes wherever you go.

Measure Portions Accurately

Don’t use guesswork to determine portion sizes. People tend to underestimate their food portions. And there are certain foods that we tend to overeat. Cereal is a perfect example. People often pour too much cereal into their bowl, which means they inadvertently consume more than one serving.

Instead, invest in a digital kitchen scale. You don’t have to use it at every meal, but each time you eat a new food, weigh a portion of food so that you know exactly how much to eat. If you consume more or less than the serving size indicated on the nutrition facts label, you’ll be able to get the correct calorie count if you know exactly how many grams were in your serving.

Be Thorough

Don't forget to record snacks or nibbles. For example, you might visit a restaurant with a friend and choose to skip dessert in an effort to keep your calorie and fat intake low. But if you grab a fork and eat a few bites of your dining partner's dessert, those calories count.

Instead, make a habit of writing down everything. If it goes in your mouth, it gets written down. Make this habit your rule for calorie counting. You might be surprised how the small indulgences throughout your day add up to a big change in your weight loss results.

Stay on Budget

You don't have to break the bank to buy expensive tools. The best calorie tracking tool for you isn't necessarily the most expensive one. You'll find different gadgets and tools at every price point. The one that works is the one you actually use. You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a tool that is effective.

You might also want to consider your lifestyle before making a purchase. Online tools might work for people who are in front of a computer all day. And for people who like using the traditional pen and paper method, a small notepad works well. Make sure that the notebook you choose is small enough to carry with you in a pocket or purse.

Record Macros and Exercise

Don’t limit yourself to just tracking calories. Depending on the tool you use, you can track other nutrients things like fiber and sodium intake. Eating adequate amounts of fiber can improve your health. You can also make sure you are getting the right amount of exercise for weight loss.

In addition to recording your total calories, consider tracking macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, and fat grams. This can be especially important if you are trying to eat a lower carbohydrate or lower fat diet. If you use a food app, these numbers will automatically be recorded for you when you input your food.

Vegetables Calories

Potato Products Potatoes are a starchy root vegetable with calories mostly from simple carbohydrates. Vegetables Vegetables of all kinds are low in calories and high in nutritional value.

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While quality of food is important for a healthy diet, quantity is also a major factor of good nutrition. Especially for anyone concerned about maintaining or losing weight, it’s a good idea to regularly review a calorie database and nutrition labels to see how much fuel you’re getting to feed your daily activity – and if it’s too much. Those extra calories, after all, are converted to excess body fat.

It’s common to think of calories in food as a way to measure amounts, but that’s not quite accurate. One hundred calories of peanut butter, for example, is only a spoonful or two. But one hundred calories of vegetables can equal several cups! Calories are a unit of measurement to show how much energy you will get from a serving of food. Therefore, to lose weight, it’s best to limit any calorie-dense foods – anything where you get a lot for a little – so you can eat enough food to really feel full.

But when restricting food intake, it’s important not to follow too extreme of an eating plan. Before they get stored as fat, the calories in food are converted into fuel for everything from organ and brain functions to walking around and even just sitting upright.

The number of calories your body needs for minimal functions – that is, simply lying in bed all day – is called basal metabolic rate (BMR). That’s the starting point to calculate how many food and drink calories you can consume in a day. Then, how much you move and how vigorously determines if you have room in your healthy diet for more calories.

Very active individuals should use the nutrition database to locate foods with a lot of energy, as indicated in the calorie chart by a high number per serving. Those whose lifestyles involve minimal activity, such as commuting to an office job by car, should look at nutrition facts to plan meals that have larger portions with fewer calories; same goes for anyone following a weight loss diet.

Regardless of how many calories you are eating, it’s also important to review the nutritional value of every item in your diet. That’s where quality of ingredients comes into play. Healthy eating habits must revolve around a balanced diet, and that means getting a mix of complex carbohydrates, good fats, and lean proteins. In general, healthy foods are not processed and contain a lot of nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Foods in the nutrition chart that have a high number of calories and few nutrients should be eaten rarely or avoided altogether. Those ingredients and food products with low nutritional value are considered as having empty calories. Another way to spot a healthier choice is by looking near the nutrition facts for the ingredients list. If the foods used to make the product are ones you could purchase in the grocery store and use to cook from scratch in your own kitchen, it’s made with whole foods. If instead there are a lot of hard-to-pronounce chemical names, put the product back on the shelf. Then keep looking until you find an item without fillers and artificial flavorings.

Before you venture out for your next grocery shopping trip, arm yourself with knowledge by making a list of good-for-you ingredients that you’ll enjoy eating. Review the calorie charts in the nutrition database to compare your options, and note which of your favorite foods are nutrient-dense. Are the calories from beef or fish better for you? What can you put in a salad to make it a delicious, low-calorie meal? And what makes sweet potatoes more nutritious than the regular white ones?

There’s no better time than now to discover what’s in your ideal healthy eating plan. Search to take the first step toward better nutrition.

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