Calorie-counting recipes

by Ali on July 25, 2008


This is the eighteenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

When you’re dieting, sometimes every calorie counts. It’s important to keep an accurate record of what you’re eating – and recipes often don’t come with a calorie figure attached. If you make the same dishes regularly, you probably don’t even follow a recipe from a book.

Some dieters use an “average” figure for a shop-bought ready meal to guesstimate the calories in their dinner. For example, if you ate lasagne last night, you might look up the calories in a typical supermarket version and use that. But this method is best avoided, as:

  • It’s difficult to have an accurate idea of portion size
  • The ingredients in your recipe could be quite different

If you go with a “best guess” figure, you may find that you’re under-estimating the calories you ate. And since you need to take in fewer calories than you expend to lose weight, your diet might appear to be “failing” for no reason.

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to figure out the calories in whatever you’re cooking, and once you’ve figured it out for a recipe once, you can just refer back to the same figure when you cook the dish again in future.

What do you need to know to work out the calories in a recipe?

When you next cook dinner, keep a notebook in the kitchen with you and write down:

  • Each ingredient you use
  • How much it weighs (raw/dried weight)

When it’s time to serve up, record the number of portions made, eg. 2 if you’re splitting it evenly between yourself and your partner. It’s much easier to work out how much you ate in this way than to try to guess a figure in grams.

You’ll also need to know how many calories there are per 100g or 100ml of each ingredient. This information is often available on the packet, though some fresh foods (vegetables especially) come unpackaged. For these, use a table of calorie information such as Calorie Database to look up the calories per 100g.

Using a spreadsheet to calculate the calories in a recipe

Once you know the ingredients, quantities and calories per 100g for each ingredient, you can fill these into a spreadsheet and calculate the calories per serving of your recipe. I’ve created a spreadsheet to download which lets you put in the numbers and does all the maths for you!

If your recipe made four portions, but two were for your kids (so smaller servings) you will need to estimate how many portions it would have made at a size equal to yours – perhaps three – in order to get an accurate result.

To download the spreadsheet, and for more guidance on how to use it, read the post where I introduced it.

The final part of the dieting basics series will be a dieting glossary, explaining terms like BMI, GI, monounsaturated…. Get the RSS feed today to make sure you don’t miss it!

(Image above by Claudecf)

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