How Many Calories Are In My Lunch?

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Pretzels and peas

Calories matter, even if we don’t want them to. Foods give us energy; some foods a little more, and some a little less. It may sound trite, but it adds up. It really does. Nutrition is a numbers game and you can bet your body is keeping track even if you aren’t. Despite all the diet strategies out there describing nifty ways to gain or lose weight, I still believe it comes down to calories in and calories out. (Am I bumming you out? Making you feel glum? Why am I starting out this post with such a downer message? Nobody wants calories to count. Ever. And nobody needs reminding of this sad fact.)

If this is true, it pays to be informed. You might be the exception, but I find that most people don’t have a good feel for how many calories are in their favorite foods. I can usually make an educated guess based on experience, but I don’t always get it right either. (Well now you’re really feeling like it’s hopeless, right? Calories count AND it’s hard to count them! This seems like a losing battle. Why bother?)

So I thought it might be worthwhile, and visually interesting, to show you the calories in my most recent bento lunches, cubby by cubby. Caloric density is an easy concept to grasp when you see it laid out in front of you like this, by the numbers. (Oh yay! Easy to grasp…with pictures! You can figure this thing out in no time. And mastering this very practical new skill can help you get to the weight you want. How cool is that? Wait…is this a post about math?)

Crispbread and Cheese Bento with Fruit and Veggies: 480 calories

Crisp bread and cheese bento

Pizza Please Bento: 595 calories

Pizza please bento

Peas and Pretzels Bento: 605 calories

Pretzels and peas

Blueberry Bento: 630 calories

Blueberry bento

Chips and Cheese Bento: 650 calories

Chips and cheese bento

Finger Foods Bento with Tofu: 755 calories

Finger foods bento with tofu

Fire Ants on a Log Bento: 795 calories

Fire ants bento

Well, what did you notice? Maybe that cucumbers and snap peas are awfully low in calories while chocolate truffles and peanut butter are awfully high in calories? This exercise is a good reminder also that even healthy foods have calories. These lunches are plant-based, full of vegetables and fruits, and packed with whole grains and fiber. But none of that excludes them from having calories, and in some cases lots of them. To maintain my weight, I shoot for about 1800-2200 calories a day, depending on my activity level. To stay in that ball park I need to continue choosing healthy foods while also keeping an eye on portion size and overall balance in my choices.

I didn’t plan these lunches with calories in mind this time around. I filled my little bento compartments very early in the morning before work, in the darkest days of December and January, mostly just cruising the pantry and digging through the fridge to find something edible and about the right size. My main priority was speed so I could get out the door and on the road. So it was interesting to see how it all played out once I crunched the numbers. (You number nerds out there have probably already calculated it in your head, but the average over 7 days was 645 calories.)

You might notice I’ve listed some foods with cup measurements and others with ounces. Scientifically speaking the most accurate way to measure food is generally with a food scale, but realistically I know more people have measuring cups on hand than a food scale like this food nerd. If ounces are a foreign language for you, it might help if I let you know that each of the 3 small sections of this LunchBot hold 1/2 cup and the 2 large sections each hold 1 cup.

That wasn’t so bad, right? Measuring and math can be so incredibly helpful when it comes to food. We make better decisions when we have the information we need. And better decisions often lead to better health, which is definitely not a downer message. It means we can positively impact our bodies by making informed choices about what goes on our plate. Yay nutrition!

If you don’t happen to have a dietitian around who can label all the items in your lunch bag with the corresponding calorie values, you can find what you need on your own. The data is out there, on nutrition facts labels and included with recipes that provide nutrition information. Even a rough count can be helpful in making decisions about meal portions, snacks, and beverages.

I don’t know about you, but the number nerd in me had so much fun with this post I’m thinking about continuing the idea through some future posts. Next up? In the coming weeks I’ll show you the same bento pics but with protein, carbohydrate, and fat values hovering over the top of each compartment. I might even go crazy with sodium or fiber, too. Turns out once it passes your lips, it all counts. Yay math!


Did any of these numbers surprise you? Or do you have a pretty good grasp of how many calories are going in your lunchbox (and your mouth) at noontime?

9 thoughts on “How Many Calories Are In My Lunch?”

  1. Love this post! I’ve been counting calories via the My Fitness Pal for 4 1/2 years…I actually enjoy it because I’m a number nerd too. Looking forward to the upcoming breakdown posts, since keeping track of protein is something I should do better.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Stacy. I’m so glad you liked this post. I felt like trying something a little different so it’s fun to know someone else enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

  2. our lunch is our dinner, dinner is hummus and veggies. I don’t worry about what to make for lunch. I make it dinner

  3. Great article! I also track through My Fitness Pal and I’m often surprised at the actual calories in something (I do quite a bit of guessing….!) Thanks for the great information.

    1. Hi Karin! So glad you found this post useful. I know, even as a person who’s supposed to know a lot of these values in her head, I’m surprised on a regular basis.

  4. Pingback: How Much Protein Is In My Lunch? - Veg Girl RD

  5. Pingback: How Much Carbohydrate is in My Lunch? - Veg Girl RD

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