How to Calculate Calories of My Recipes

by Beth Spicer

About Beth Spicer

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 University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a M.B.A. from The College of William & Mary.


Packaged foods come with their calorie and nutrition information pre-calculated for you. 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 ounces of sweetened condensed milk, 2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon 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-ounce. can. That means there are 130 x 10 = 1,300 calories in 14 ounces. The label on the chocolate chips might list the calories like this: 70 calories in 1 tablespoon. Convert that to the 2 cups needed in our recipe: 70 calories per tablespoon x 16 tablespoons 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 tablespoon, 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 teaspoon, 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 ounces sweetened, condensed milk + 2 cups chocolate chips + 2 tablespoons butter + 1 teaspoon 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.


  • When you divide the total calories by the number of servings, be sure you use the actual number of servings that you split the recipe into. For example, if you are a chocolate lover, you might split the fudge recipe into 10 pieces instead of 25. In that case, each piece would have 452 calories!

Photo Credits:

  • old resipe box image by charles taylor from

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or