University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Helping you prepare healthy foods in a hurry

Alice Henneman, MS, Registered Dietitian and Extension Educator
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County


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MyPyramid and "Discretionary Calorie" Treats

A new feature added with MyPyramid is the "discretionary calorie." MyPyramid describes discretionary calories as follows:

With a financial budget, the essentials are items like rent and food. The extras are things like movies and vacations. In a calorie budget, the “essentials” are the minimum calories required to meet your nutrient needs. By selecting the lowest fat and no-sugar-added forms of foods in each food group you would make the best nutrient “buys.” Depending on the foods you choose, you may be able to spend more calories than the amount required to meet your nutrient needs. These calories are the “extras” that can be used on luxuries like solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol, or on more food from any food group. They are your “discretionary calories.

Each person has an allowance for some discretionary calories. But, many people have used up this allowance before lunch-time! Most discretionary calorie allowances are very small, between 100 and 300 calories, especially for those who are not physically active.

Many 100-calorie (or less) treats are available that will fit into the "discretionary calorie" allowance for most MyPYramid meal plans.
Check your grocery store aisles. Many foods, such as snacks, cookies and frozen bars, are now packaged in 100-calorie (or less) portion sizes.

With a little planning to assure nutrient needs are met from the other food groups, you can easily spend your discretionary calories on a snack or dessert from one of these items. For more information about calculating the amount of each food group you need daily and your remaining "discretionary calories," visit

TIP: Check the serving size of foods for the number of calories. For example, I recently picked up package of frozen bars and the serving size was listed as two. When I divided the calories by the number of bars per "serving," they were less than 100 calories per bar.


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Developed By:

Alice C. Henneman, MS, RD
Extension Educator
University of Nebraska
Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

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