With the festive season approaching, it’s that time of year where eating homemade food is a must.
But if you’re like me and you track your calories and macros, this time of year can be tough! Don’t get me wrong, Christmas Day & Boxing Day will be a write off when it comes to tracking, as it should be, but the days leading up and surrounding them, I’ll be doing my best to keep on the straight and narrow.
If you’ve ever experimented with food tracking, you probably know that it’s really easy to track the calories and nutritional macros in a can of baked beans or a box of chocolate chip cookies. The information is right there on the package, and it’s often pre-loaded into apps like Fitbit and MyFitnessPal, but it’s a lot harder to track calories and macros in your homemade soup and cupcakes you make at home.
So how can you go about doing it?
Add up your ingredients
To find out the nutritional value of food you cook or bake at home, you need to add up the nutritional values of every ingredient and divide by the number of servings the recipe yields.
If you use MyFitnessPal (either on the app or online), they have a recipe calculator on the website that’ll help you through this process. You can also bulk import ingredients and the app will match them to what it has in its database.
In most cases, the value on the back of the package won’t match the exact measurement you’re putting into the recipe; sometimes the app will work it out per half the packet when in fact you might put in 2/3 to your recipe. Luckily the calculator works out all of this for you.
If you want to be as accurate as possible, you can invest in a digital food scale and measure everything that way.
It goes without saying, but once you start cooking, stick to the measurements in your recipe. One tablespoon of olive oil, not “pouring until it feels right.” This is another reason why some people use a food scale: it helps them know exactly how much of each ingredient is going into their meals.
How to determine your serving size
Once you’ve got your ingredients measured and your total nutritional values calculated, you’ll need to divide those values by serving size.
Your serving size is generally dependent on the type of food you’re making. Soups and stews work well in one or two cup measurements, which means you’ll have to know how much soup you’ve made before you start serving it. (I fill my slow cooker or blender to a level that I know represents ten cups.) Pizzas and bread can all be divided into a specific number of slices. Cupcakes, cookies and homemade protein bars are tracked per item.
Yes, one of those cupcakes might be slightly larger than another one (everyone likes to lick the bowl which means that one cupcake is always smaller), but in this case being imperfectly accurate with your nutritional data is better than not knowing the data at all! Plus, the data is likely to average out. Using my soft-baked ginger cookie recipe as an example; a slightly smaller cookie might be closer to 50 calories and a slightly larger one might be closer to 69, but over the course of a few days I’ll have still eaten roughly 69 calories per cookie.
Once you have your serving size calculated, you can enter it into your MFP recipe calculator. Most apps will give you the option to enter home-prepared foods, and then you can log them along with the other foods you eat throughout the day.
Don’t forget though…
Just because you’ve decided that “one cup” represents a serving of soup doesn’t mean you’re stuck with one-cup lunches forever. Once your app knows the nutritional values of a single cup of homemade soup, it’ll automatically calculate the correct values when you record that you ate two cups’ worth if you’re hungrier or need to up your calorie intake.
It does mean that you do have to pay attention to how much food you eat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to get out the measuring cups for the rest of your life haha. Counting calories and macros shouldn’t be forever and once you’ve got into it, you’ll start to intuitively know how much you can and can’t eat.
You can calculate your serving size per gram instead of per cup and use your digital food scale every time you eat—which will get you the most accurate nutritional information—or you can just eat one ginger cookie, two cups of stew, or 1/2 of a pizza. Either way, you’re becoming more aware of what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, and how it’s affecting your long-term nutritional goals.
*Please be aware that if you have a history of eating disorders or a bad relationship with food, you must consult with your doctor before you start tracking to ensure this is a good option for you. Also, please ensure you do as much research into anything like this or lifestyle changes such as intermittent fasting before you go ahead.