Calculating Calories and Nutrients in Meals

Woman cutting vegetables while man watches

It is not always feasible to calculate nutrition information for all of your recipes, but having information for some of your meals is better than having nothing at all. Calculating nutrition information for more standard recipes is a great place to start.

We hope you find the following suggestions on how to calculate calorie and nutrient information in three scenarios helpful:

1). Single Ingredient Meals  2). Recipes and Mixed Dishes  3). Full Meals

Nutrient analysis software, nutrient analysis companies, and laboratory analysis are also listed below.

Click here for the MS Excel® spreadsheet tool that is mentioned for Calculating Calories for Recipes and Mixed Dishes.

1). Calculating Calories and Nutrients in Single Ingredient Meals

The calorie and nutrient content of single ingredients and individual foods can usually be found in the USDA’s National Nutrient Database. In addition, most packaged foods list information in the Nutrition Facts panel. Follow the steps below to find nutrition information for a single food or ingredient:
1. Go to the USDA National Nutrient Database.
2. Search and select food item of interest. Sometimes there are multiple options (e.g. chicken breast with and without skin; roasted, fried, etc.) so choose the option that is the best match for the food you are using.
3. Input the amount of food and click “apply changes.”  Note that there are gram values for all provided unit measures, which is the same unit used on the Nutrition Facts label.

For example, if you want to know the calorie content of 2 cups of a food item, adjust the numerical value in the column titled “cup” to 2.

Other unit conversions may sometimes be necessary if the unit of interest is not an available option. For example, if you want to know the calorie content of 8 oz of a food item but only the value for 100 grams is available, then you will need to adjust the numerical value in the column titled ‘value per 100 grams’ to 2.27.

1 oz = 28.4 grams
8 oz = 227 grams (8 x 28.4 grams)
227 grams/100 grams = 2.27 (so you would need 2.27 times the 100 gram value)

  1. A useful conversion tool
  2. Calorie information is the second row and is titled “Energy.” Other nutrients commonly reported are in the rows immediately following: protein, total fat, carbohydrate and total dietary fiber. Sodium is in the section titled “Minerals” and saturated fat, unsaturated fat and cholesterol are located in the section titled “Lipids.”

Calories, nutrients and weights displayed for each food are for the edible portion of food (for example – without bones, etc.)

2). Calculating Calories for Recipes and Mixed Dishes

A lot of the foods we eat have more than one ingredient. For example, a chicken breast is rarely prepared plain and may include some type of fat used during cooking, a sauce added afterward, or other ingredients. Multi-ingredient recipes can be calculated by entering data for each individual ingredient into an MS Excel® spreadsheet that has been set up for this purpose. The spreadsheet gives you the option to list how many servings the recipe makes and will calculate the calories and nutrients per serving. Follow the steps below to calculate the nutrition information for a multi-ingredient food or recipe.

  1. Type the names and amounts of each ingredient into the spreadsheet.
  2. Go to the USDA National Nutrient Database. Determine calories and nutrients for each individual ingredient in the correct quantity as described above.
  3. Enter the data into the spreadsheet and it will add up values for the total recipe. When you enter the number of servings, the spreadsheet will determine calories and nutrients per serving.

3). Calculating Calories for Full Meals

Typically a meal consists of several different foods, some of which may be recipes that contain multiple ingredients. An example would be a stir fry (recipe with multiple ingredients) with a side of rice (single ingredient). Calorie and nutrient values for meals can be calculated by entering the values for the individual ingredients and for the single serving portion of recipes into a downloadable MS Excel® spreadsheet that is set up for this purpose. Follow the steps below to calculate the nutrition information for a meal.

  1. Type the names of the ingredients and the recipes, along with the amounts of each into the spreadsheet. Alternately, recipes may be copied over from the Recipe Calculator above.
  2. Go to the USDA National Nutrient Database and look up the calories and nutrients for each individual ingredient in the correct amount.
  3. Enter the information into the Meal Calculator spreadsheet including number of servings for each individual ingredient or recipe. The spreadsheet will then sum calories and nutrients giving you values for a single serving of the entire meal.


The USDA database does contain some ready calculated meals, however, we recommend you calculate the nutrient information for your dishes as described above, in order to obtain the most accurate composition for your own recipes.

The more precise you can be with the exact food, amount, and servings per recipe, the more accurate the calories and nutrient values will be. Also, be aware of often forgotten ingredients such as oil, butter, or broth used in cooking.

The methods described above assume that all of the fat used in cooking is consumed. For deep fried items, however, select the appropriate choice directly from the USDA database.


The following nutrition analysis resources are available for purchase and will do the work for you. This list is not exhaustive and not an endorsement of any products or companies.
Nutritional Analysis Software
Axxya Systems
ESHA – Genesis R&D SQL
ESHA – Food Processor SQL

Nutrition Analysis Companies (some may also perform laboratory analysis)
Compu-Food Analysis, Inc.
Energyent, Inc.
Food Consulting Company
Healthy Dining Finder
Kitchens with Confidence

National Laboratory Analysis Companies  (some may offer volume discounts. Call for pricing.)

Michelson Laboratories, Inc.
6280 Chalet Drive
Commerce, CA 90040

Michelson Laboratories of Northern California
1451 Moffat Blvd.
Suite #1
Manteca, CA 95336

Industrial Laboratories Company, Inc.
4046 Youngfield Street
Wheat Ridge, CO 80033

Warren Analytical Laboratory
650 “O” Street
Greeley, CO 80631

Northeast Laboratories, Inc.
129 Mill Street, Suite 11
Berlin, CT 06037

Silliker, Inc.
900 Maple Road
Homewood, IL 60430

Eurofins Scientific, Inc.
2200 Rittenhouse Street, Suite 150
Des Moines, IA 50321

Intertek Total Quality Assurance
160 James Drive East, Suite 200
Saint Rose, LA 70087
888-400-0084 or 281-971-5600

Krueger Food Laboratories, Inc
21 Alpha Road, Suite D
Chelmsford, MA 01824

Medallion Labs
9000 Plymouth Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55427

Midwest Laboratories
13611 B Street
Omaha, NE 68144

Food Processing Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
143 Filley Hall

New York
Certified Laboratories, Inc.
200 Express Street
Plainview, NY 11803
800-CERT-LAB or 516-576-1400

North Carolina
Craft Technologies, Inc.
4344 Frank Price Church Road
Wilson, NC 29893

Element Portland - Parkrose
12003 N.E. Ainsworth Circle Suite #105
Portland, OR 97220

100 Marshall Drive
Warrendale, PA 15086
*27 locations in the East and Midwest

QC Laboratories
60 James Way, Unit 6
Southampton, PA 18966

Analytical Food Laboratories
860 Greenview Dribe
Grand Prairie, TX 75050
800-242-6494 or 972-336-0336

Created by Dr. Susan B. Roberts and Dr. Lorien E. Urban, both of the Energy Metabolism Lab in collaboration with Dr. Cheryl H. Gilhooly, of the Dietary Assessment Unit