Quantified Diet: Calculating Cost and Nutritional Content of Individual Meals

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diet quantification diet calculation diet tracking quantified diet diet analyticsThe accurate tracking of the diet is commonly perceived to be a very time-consuming and cumbersome process. To my personal knowledge, when it comes to logging nutritional content of meals, even dedicated self-trackers often resort to simple methods like guesstimating the calories, logging quantities of only the most important ingredients (number of apples eaten, glasses of milk or cups of coffee drunk, etc.), or using somewhat dubious apps like “Meal Snap”. In this post, I will show that accurate diet tracking is not as difficult as it seems, and all you need is just a couple of tools, and a routine.

First, however, you will have to accept the fact that from now on, you will need to cook most of your meals at home. This is the only way to take control over your diet, unless you are using one of those pre cooked meals services like Nutrisystem (which is perfectly fine), or rely exclusively on frozen/packaged ready-to-eat meals (which is not fine). Only when you cook at home, you can be certain what ingredients go into your meals and in what proportions. But it does not necessarily mean that you have to deprive yourself of joy of eating outside: try sticking to home-cooked meals on weekdays, and going to restaurants on weekends. Just make sure to ask about the nutritional content of the meals you order. Most of the restaurants ( at least in New York City and other large cities) should be able to provide you with the caloric estimates for most of their dishes.

Second, you will need to purchase the kitchen scale. I personally use Epica TM Accupro Electronic Food Scale. It’s very compact and light (so you can carry it with you), and is very easy to clean. It also offers enough precision, and reports weight in both ounces and grams. I have been using it for over three months now, and have not had any issues. Oh, and it is also very affordable! And since I always use weight, and not the volume, to estimate the nutritional content, I don’t need the measurement cup. A couple of plastic container will suffice.

Now that you are mentally prepared and fully equipped, it’s time to follow the steps below. If you follow this routine regularly, eventually it will become a habit.

Step 1. Create the meal plan in advance
Yes, the diet tracking starts even before you head to the grocery store. It is usually on Sunday mornings when I sit down and write down the meal plan for the next week. The plan will depend on your dietary restrictions (e.g., more protein) and lifestyle (e.g., you go to the gym at lunch and/or after work, so you need pre-workout snacks), and should include the following:

  • Total number of meals per day
  • Number of ready-to-eat snacks vs. cooked meals
  • Total number of ingredients (the less ingredients the better, try using the same ingredients for different meals)
  • List of ingredients, along with the weight/number

For example, my weekday diet consists of seven meals: breakfast (eaten around 7:15 am), second breakfast (eaten around 10:30 am), pre-workout snack (eaten right before cardio and abs workout, around 12:15 pm), lunch (eaten right after cardio or abs workout, around 1:45 pm), pre-workout snack (eaten right before evening workout, around 5:45), dinner (eaten upon returning home from the gym, around 8 pm), and after dinner snack (eaten before 9 pm). Some of the snacks (string cheese, “Pure Protein” shake in can, protein bars) are purchased pre-packaged and with the nutritional labels, so I don’t need to worry about them. The rest of the ingredients that I am listing in the plan have to conform to my high protein, low fat, low carb diet, and need to be versatile (that is, the same ingredient can be used in more than one meal). To keep the costs down, I also plan only two kinds of hot meals a week, and then rotate them for lunch and dinner.

Step 2. Buy groceries
Don’t be afraid to shop in more than one store, if it can help you save money or find a better quality ingredients. The reason I do grocery shopping on Sundays is because it is my “relaxation” day, with no activities beside running errands and cooking, so I have enough time to compare products across the stores. The most important in this step is to keep all receipts, because you will need them in the next step.

Step 3. Set up the meal quantification tool
For this step, you will need the “meal quantification” tool. You can either use the one that I developed in Zoho, or build your own in Excel or Google spreadsheets. Unlike other calculators that you may find on the web (e.g., those provided by SparkPeople, MyFitnessPal, etc.), my tool calculates not only nutritional content of the total cooked meal, but also nutritional content and cost of individual portions that you put on your plate.

The cost of every ingredient comes from the receipts that you hopefully saved. My tool automatically converts (although you don’t see it) the price per pound to the price per gram, because most of the nutritional labels operate with grams, not ounces or pounds. If the price on your receipt is listed as per ounce, you simply multiply the price by 16. For instance, if your receipt lists that you paid .20 cents per ounce, then the cost that you need to enter into the quantification tool is .20*16 = 3.2 dollars per pound.

quantified diet quantified nutrition nutrition analytics diet analytics self tracking diet calculator by measured me blogIn order to enter the base nutritional information for each of the ingredients, you will need the product labels. If the ingredient did not have any nutrition labels, you can alwasy look up this information online: just google “nutritional content of X”, or go directly to databases like NutritionDataSelf or LiveStrong ). Just copy the “serving size”, “calories per serving”, fat/sugar/protein/carbs per serving (in grams) into corresponding cells.

Step 4. Weight and cook.
I must admit that when I cook, I feel more like an alchemist in the lab than a chef in the kitchen. Every ingredient, after being washed and cut, gets weighed before going into the pot or pan. The weight of each ingredient (in grams!) goes into the IN-MEAL cells. After the meal is cooked and cooled, weight it again, and enter the weight into COOKED MEAL WEIGHT cell. Voila! The tool will give you the cost of the cooked meal, and its nutritional content. To get the cost and nutritional content of the individual lunch/dinner or composite snack, enter its weight into “ON PLATE WEIGHT” cell.

This tool should work for any meal, be it a hot meal, salad or a composite snack like sandwich. Please message me on Twitter @measuredme if you have any questions! Happy diet tracking!

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5 Responses to Quantified Diet: Calculating Cost and Nutritional Content of Individual Meals

  1. lenforde@gmail.com says:

    HMMM…FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  2. Weight Loss says:

    Great support on dieting plan. In this you have taken great healthy way to get healthy diet. Thank you for your healthy support on this issue.

  3. JasonKoller says:

    This is amazing.
    I’m just getting into the Quantified Slef movement.
    I really like your thought process and how you approach the whole QS concept.

  4. Measured Me says:

    Thank you, Jason!

  5. Scot says:

    This is exactly how I cook minus the cost calculation. Frequently I forgo the containers and just put the pan on the scale (metal) taring between ingredients. Everyone I know thinks I’m nuts.

    I will be adding the cost element thanks to this post!

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