How to Calculate Calories of My Recipes


Packaged foods come with their calorie and nutrition information pre-calculated for you, and you can look up commodity foods, like ground beef, apples or eggs, in a book or online database, such as the USDA National Nutrient Database. If you are preparing your own recipe at home, however, you will have to calculate the calories per serving yourself. This can be a little tricky, since the quantity on the package or in the database might not match what you are using in your recipe. But with a few careful calculations, you can get to your answer by adding up the calories for all your ingredients and then dividing by the number of servings your recipe produces.

Calculate the Calories in the Recipe

Step 1

Find the calories for each of the ingredients in your recipe that has a nutrition label. Let’s consider a simple chocolate fudge recipe. This recipe calls for 14 oz. of sweetened condensed milk, 2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips, 2 tbsp. butter, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

There should be calorie information for the condensed milk and the chocolate chips on their packages. The condensed milk label might say, for example, that there are 130 calories in one serving, and that there are 10 servings in the entire 14-oz. can. That means there are 130 x 10 = 1,300 calories in 14 oz. The label on the chocolate chips might list the calories like this: 70 calories in 1 tbsp. Convert that to the 2 cups needed in our recipe: 70 calories per tablespoon x 16 tbsp. per cup x 2 cups = 2,240 calories in 2 cups of chocolate chips.

Step 2

Find the calories for each of the non-packaged ingredients from a calorie listing or database. According to the USDA nutrient database, butter has 102 calories per tablespoon, and our recipe calls for 2 tbsp., so we’ll have a total of 204 calories from butter. The database tells us that vanilla extract has 37 calories per tablespoon, but we need only 1 tsp., which is one-third of that, or about 12 calories. Finally, assuming we are using bulk walnuts that we chopped ourselves, we find the calories from USDA to be 766 calories per cup.

Step 3

Add up the calories for all of the ingredients. The total of all our recipe ingredients would be: 14 oz. sweetened, condensed milk + 2 cups chocolate chips + 2 tbsp. butter + 1 tsp. vanilla + 1 cup chopped walnuts = 1,300 + 2,240 + 204 + 12 + 766 = 4,522. This is the total calories for the entire pan of fudge.

Step 4

Determine the number of servings in the entire recipe. This particular recipe suggests cutting the pan into 25 pieces of fudge.

Step 5

Calculate the calories per individual serving by dividing the total calories by the number of servings. In the case of our fudge recipe, that would be 4,522 / 25 = 181 calories per serving.

About this Author

Beth Spicer is a statistician in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Her professional experience includes 20 years working in social, behavioral, and medical research for Duke University, GlaxoSmithKline, Family Health International, and other area research institutions. She holds a B.S. in mathematics from UNC-Chapel Hill, and an M.B.A. from The College of William & Mary.