What are discretionary food choices?

Discretionary foods graphic of various snacks, sweets, and other foods.

Some foods and drinks do not fit into the five food groups because they are not necessary for a healthy diet and are too high in saturated fat and/or added sugars, added salt or alcohol and low in fibre. These foods and drinks can also be too high in kilojoules (energy). Many tend to have low levels of essential nutrients so are often referred to as ‘energy-dense’ but ‘nutrient-poor’ foods. The problem is that they can take the place of other more nutritious foods. Also, the higher levels of kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars, added salt and/or alcohol that they contain are associated with increased risk of obesity and chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

It is easy to have too much and too many of these foods and drinks, and many people do. If you are trying to lose weight, you are unlikely to be able to fit these foods into your lower kilojoule target. However, for people in their normal weight range, these foods and drinks in occasional, small amounts, can add variety and enjoyment to eating. These ‘optional’ foods and drinks are referred to as ‘discretionary choices’.

‘Discretionary’ foods and drinks include sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts and pastries; processed meats and fattier/salty sausages; sweetened condensed milk; ice cream and other ice confections; confectionary and chocolate; savoury pastries and pies; commercial burgers with a high fat and/or salt content; commercially fried foods; potato chips, crisps and other fatty and/or salty snack foods including some savoury biscuits; cream, butter and spreads which are high in saturated fats; sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, sports and energy drinks and alcoholic drinks.

What types of food are included in this category?

The table below lists 4 types of food categories and multiple examples for each.
Higher added sugars Higher fat Higher fat and added sugars High alcohol

Energy drinks

Fruit drinks


Jams, marmalade

Some sauces


Sugar confectionary

Sweetened soft drinks and cordials

Sweetened waters


Bacon, ham

Butter, cream, ghee

Certain tacos, nachos, enchilada


Dairy blends

Frankfurts etc

Meat pies



Potato chips



Some processed meats

Some sauces/dressings

Spring roll




Dessert custards


Ice cream

Iced Buns

Muesli bars



Some confectionary

Some sauces/ dressings

Sweet muffins

Sweet pastries

Sweet pies and crumbles



Mixed alcoholic drinks





What is a serve of discretionary foods?

One ‘serve’ of a discretionary food, is the amount that contains 600kJ. To find out how much of a particular discretionary food would be equal to one ‘serve’, you can use the nutrition information panel (to work out what amount of the product would contain 600kJ.

For example a serve of these discretionary foods that provides about 600 kJ is:

  • 2 scoops (75g) regular ice cream
  • ¼ cup condensed milk
  • 50-60g (about two slices) processed meats, salami, mettwurst
  • 1 ½ thick or 2 thinner higher fat/salt sausages
  • 30g salty crackers (a small individual serve packet)
  • 2-3 sweet biscuits
  • 1 (40 g) doughnut
  • 1 slice (40 g) plain cake or small cake-type muffin
  • 40g sugar confectionary (about 5-6 small lollies)
  • 60g jam/honey (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 small bar (25 g) chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons (40 g) cream
  • 1 tablespoon (20 g) butter or hard margarine
  • 200 mL wine (2 standard drinks (note this is often 1 glass for many Australian wines)
  • 60 mL spirits (2 standard drinks)
  • 600 mL light beer (1½ standard drinks)
  • 400 mL regular beer (1½ standard drinks)
  • 1 can (375 mL) soft drink
  • 1/3 (60 g) commercial meat pie or pastie
  • 12 (60 g) fried hot chips

How do discretionary foods fit into a healthy diet?

Some people require extra serves for example, those who are taller and more active and these can sometimes include extra serves of discretionary foods. It is best if these extra serves come from the five food groups, particularly wholegrain cereals, vegetables including legumes/beans and fruit. However they can also sometimes include serves of discretionary foods.

If you are aiming to lose weight, you are more likely to be successful if you minimise discretionary foods, because they are high in kilojoules but low in essential nutrients.

There are lots of ways to cut down on discretionary foods that includes; swapping them for foods from the five food groups, planning for eating out and eating more ‘mindfully’ and limiting portion size.