You need a certain number of calories to keep your body functioning and provide energy for physical activities. Think of the calories you need for energy like money you have to spend. Each person has a total calorie “budget.” This budget can be divided into “essentials” and “extras.”
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. For many people, the discretionary calorie allowance is totally used by the foods they choose in each food group, such as higher fat meats, cheeses, whole milk, or sweetened bakery products.
You can use your discretionary calorie allowance to: