How to Figure Calories for Homemade Food

Pesto Chicken Penne

Pesto Chicken Penne

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When you’re trying to count calories, it can get pretty complicated when you’re eating homemade food.  When everything you eat is processed or packaged or simple (like fruit or bread), it’s easy.  But homemade stuff can get pretty difficult.

However, there are a few things you can do to make it a LOT easier.

1.       Keep a calorie counting book handy.  I have two – one is much more detailed and one is an abbreviated version.  Sometimes I use my phone.  But I like my book the best.  My calorie counting book lives in the measuring cup drawer so it’s convenient.

Calorie Counting Book

2.       Get a food scale.  I started out with a cheapie and it did an adequate job.  But then I graduated to an electronic scale that cost about $35.00.  I use it for more than just figuring calories.

food scale

3.       Figure the calories on commonly used items and keep it handy.  For example, if you use a lot of cream of chicken soup, figure out how many calories are in a can of soup.

cream of chicken soup

To figure the calories for the whole can, take the number of servings (2.5) times the calories per serving (80).  The calories for this can of 98% fat free cream of chicken soup are 200.

Now every time you use a can of cream of chicken soup, you’ll know it’s 200 calories.  Repeat that process with anything you use often and keep it handy – in your phone; in your planner; in a chart on the inside of one of your cabinets or at the front of your recipes.

4.       Write it down!  Whenever I’m figuring the calories on a recipe, I write them directly on the recipe.  That way, if I make any adjustments or do something differently next time, it’s easy to correct the calorie total without having to re-figure everything.

recipe with calories counts

calorie counts on recipe

5.       Be consistent with ingredients.  Unfortunately, if you’re serious about counting calories, the calorie count you figured last time will only be accurate if you make it the same way next time.  So if it calls for 2 cups of cheese, you can’t throw in 3 – not without adjusting the calories.  Or you can’t guess because that might throw the counts off.  So you’ll need to make it the same way every time.

6.       Be consistent with how many the recipe makes.  If you make cookies and you figured 3 dozen cookies and each cookie is 100 calories, then if you make bigger cookies and end up with 2 dozen, they won’t still be 100 calories each.  I like to use a cookie scoop so I end up with uniformly sized cookies and the same amount.  If you’re off one or two, it’s not a big deal.

6.       Choose serving dishes that are easy to measure.  For example, whenever I make linguini a la anne, I always put it in a 9×13 dish. When I figured the calories, I figured the serving size as 1/12 of the 9×13 pan.  So when I cut the linguini, I cut it into 12 pieces.  I don’t have to weigh or measure.

9x13 pan

Another helpful dish is a muffin pan.  Instead of making a pan of cornbread, make cornbread muffins.  That makes it really easy to figure calories based on serving size.

Silicone Muffin Pan

7.       Soup is a little bit harder to figure.  The best way I’ve found to do it is to figure the calories for each of the ingredients.  Add up the total.  Then, using your soup ladle which you’ve already measured so you know how much it holds, ladle the soup out of the pan and into a serving bowl one scoop at a time, carefully counting how many scoops you end up with.  Then divide the total calories by the number of scoops.  That gives you the calories per 1 cup (or whatever your ladle holds).  Next time you make the soup, you don’t need to remeasure.  Just go with 1 cup = 200 calories (or whatever).

NOTE:  To figure how much your soup ladle holds, just get a measuring cup filled with water and start pouring into the ladle.  When it’s full, look to see how much is left in your measuring cup.  Subtract that from the total and that’s how much the ladle holds.


8.       For bread, like Italian Bread, I figure the calories for the whole loaf.  Then I have two choices.  1.  Weigh the whole loaf using the food scale.  Let’s say it weighs 13 ounces.  Take the total calories for the whole loaf and divide it by 13.  That tells me that 1 ounce of bread is x number of calories.  When I get ready to eat the bread, I can weigh the slice (before butter) and see how many ounces it is and multiply that by the calories per ounce.  This method is the most accurate.  2. Or I can slice the loaf into x number of slices and divide that by the total.  It won’t be exact because some of the slices will be smaller and some bigger, but it will probably be close enough.

9.       On some items you have to guess a little bit.  For example, I make oven baked chicken using a crumb mix.  But I don’t always use ALL the crumb mix.  And some of the pieces of chicken are bigger than others so they have more crumbs.  So the way I figure something like that is figure the calories for the entire crumb mix.  Then I divide that by the number of pieces of chicken I have.  Let’s say the crumb mixture is 300 calories and I have 6 pieces of chicken.  Divide 300 by six pieces of chicken and that’s 50 calories per piece of chicken for the crumbs.  When I’m ready to eat, I weigh the chicken, multiply it by the calories for chicken (approximately 40 calories per ounce of chicken breast) and add 50 for the crumbs.  It’s not exact but close enough.

10.     Some recipes are really hard to figure.  For example, I make a chocolate trifle that is amazingly delicious but nearly impossible to figure without a LOT of effort and without messing up the dessert.  Sometimes it’s best to just guess.   Figure out the calories for the whole thing, guess how many servings there are and how much each serving is, and divide the calories.  The truth is, after you’ve been counting and figuring calories for a while, you get pretty good at guessing accurately.  And my philosophy is that if it’s too hard to figure the calories, maybe I shouldn’t be making it – at least not very often.

chocolate trifle11.     For some items, you have ingredients left over that you included in your count.  For example, for pie crust I figured the calories in the whole batch of pie dough.  But after I roll it out, I cut some of it off and throw it out.  That means the calories I figured are actually too high.  If you only waste a little, it’s not a big deal. But if it’s very much, you might want to re-figure.

So here’s how I did it for pie crust.

  • Figure the calories for the whole batch of pie dough.
  • Weigh it on the food scale.
  • Roll out the dough and use what I need.
  • Take what’s left over and weigh it.
  • Subtract the total from what was left and that’s what I used.
  • Figure the calories.

From then on, that’s the number I used for my pie crusts.  It wasn’t exact, but it was close.

12.     If you absolutely don’t want to bother figuring the calories for something or you’re short of time or you’re eating something someone else made, you can always look up the item in your calorie counting book and go with the number for homemade.  Or even go with something processed that sounds similar.  Counting calories isn’t an exact science so as long as you’re careful, it’ll probably come out in the end.

13.     For marinades, I don’t count any calories.  I weigh the meat and figure calories for the meat but I don’t add anything for the marinade.

14.     The more variety you have in your menu, the more work it will be to figuring calories.  If you eat the same dishes over and over, figuring calories won’t be too bad because you’ll do it once for each dish and then you’re done.  If you try a lot of new recipes, like I do, you need to find shortcuts to help you do it faster.  My best strategies are the dishes, serving utensils and master list of calorie counts.  Those three strategies make it a lot easier.  Plus I’ve been doing it for a while so I can guess pretty accurately if I have to.

Do you figure calories for homemade foods? What strategies do you use to make it less of a hassle?

More articles about healthy living are available in the Healthy Living Index.
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Born in Kentucky, I am a wife and mom to 1 son and 2 daughters . I have an ink pen obsession, as well as a love for all things planner. I have been married for 10 years to my high school crush. I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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4 thoughts on “How to Figure Calories for Homemade Food

    1. I’ve done that weighing option, too. It works on some dishes. I think the hardest part is figuring out how many servings. If it’s a dish like a 9×13 pan, it’s easy. But bowls or dutch ovens make it hard. The calorie counting website doesn’t really help with that, does it?

      1. Yes, it does. Because you can fiddle with the number of servings on the website, and then get a weight-per-serving. I made a stew last month that was 300 calories in 400g. Chowder is more like 150g per 300 calories.

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