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Portion Sizes

Timeless Nutrition Tips...

Portion size is becoming a big controversy among nutrition and health experts. We can easily control portions when cooking at home but tend to forget about that when eating out or perhaps are a guest in someone's home.

Portion Sizes

Following are ways you can mentally figure out how much a portion size should be so as not to over-do it. For example, you can use familiar objects such as the hand of a woman. A man's hand may be a little too big! The size of an average female closed fist equals approximately 1-cup.

Here are a few examples for diabetics:

  • pasta or potato equals two carbohydrate exchanges
  • rice is equivalent to three carbohydrate exchanges
  • strawberries equals one carbohydrate exchange per berry
  • cooked rice equal three carbohydrate exchanges
  • salad greens equal one-cup or one serving of vegetables

More Ways to Determine Portion Sizes:

Portions on Plates Your thumb is about one ounce of cheese, 1-tablespoon of salad dressing or peanut butter, etc. Use the tip of the thumb to determine a teaspoon of butter, margarine, mayonnaise or oil.

Perhaps you prefer to use inanimate objects to estimate serving portions. A serving of cereal is about the size of a tennis ball, not a basketball. A medium-size potato is about the size of a computer mouse and equals two carbohydrate servings for diabetics. The size of a small bar of soap equals a three to four-ounce serving of chicken, fish or meat. We are all familiar with dice -- about four dice would equal one ounce of cheese.

If you want to watch the amount of spaghetti you are eating, this next tip will not only give you an idea if you are eating too much, but it will slow down your eating a bit. Enjoy it and savor it while you count the noodles! Yes, count the noodles! A single serving is equivalent to about 32 full strands of spaghetti and-or one carbohydrate exchange for diabetics. Here is another one -- an average three-ounce bagel is equal to the size of a hockey puck and/or one carbohydrate exchange for diabetics.

Americans have reached an all-time high of obesity and diabetes. This is due in part to the ever-increasing portion sizes sold to us in fast food chains, supermarket aisle, frozen foods and even in many restaurants. Consequently, we grossly overestimate a normal portion size. Another thing one could do to familiarize themselves with portion sizes is to begin weighing all your foods at home. In time, you will be able to tell what a portion size should be without using the scale. This practice is especially good for diabetics who have to watch their exchanges.

Practice restraint in restaurants as well. An appetizer makes a great meal and is plenty of food for one sitting. However, we are supposed to think of it in an entirely different manner, are we not? We have become accustomed to having an appetizer and/or drink BEFORE a meal. With an entree, you can split one and still get plenty of food for one sitting. Alternatively, you can set half aside when you get your dish, request a doggie bag and put that other half into the doggie bag right away. Two restaurant meals for the price of one!

Use your plate as a guide:

Picture your plate as a clock. Let's say it is 3:00 p.m. You would want to fill the section between 12:00 and 3:00 o'clock with your meat or dairy servings for that meal. If your meat or dairy portion is larger than the space on your plate, you're eating too much. The rest of your plate should be rounded out with servings of grains, fruits and vegetables.

A few more portion control tips:
Do not put more food out than what you want to eat. Pay attention to how many servings a recipes states it makes and try to stick to the equivalent of one serving.

When eating in a restaurant request salad dressings, butter, sour cream, pancake syrup and such be served on the side. This way you can control the portion you add to your food.

If you are not sure of ingredients in a recipe when dining out, ask! For example, if you want an omelet, find out how many they use to make their omelets. If they use three or four, request one or two. Your entree should be about the size of a deck of cards. If it is larger, consider asking half be put into a doggy bag before you begin eating.

Following is the 21st Century Guide to portion sizes:

Portion Comparison Card

  • A medium potato = a six-ounce soda can
  • 3 ounces of meat = the size of a floppy disk
  • One scoop of ice cream = a round iMac mouse
  • 3 ounces of grilled fish = a PDA
  • 1 ounce of cheese = a pager
  • 1-tablespoon of olive oil (or other cooking oil) = an individual eye-shadow compact
  • A serving of pretzels or other snack food = a coffee mug's full

Now that you are more aware of portion sizes, consider what you have been eating. Self-educating is so important. Once aware of things such as this, you can take total control over your weight! All it requires is a little discipline and the rewards are fantastic.

Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls

When eating at many restaurants, it's hard to miss that portion sizes have gotten larger in the last few years. The trend has also spilled over into the grocery store and vending machines, where a bagel has become a BAGEL and an "individual" bag of chips can easily feed more than one.

Research shows that people unintentionally consume more calories when faced with larger portion sizes. This can mean significant excess calorie intake, especially when eating high-calorie foods. Here are some tips to help you avoid some common portion-size pitfalls that will also cut a portion of your grocery budget.

Go ahead, spoil your dinner.

We learned as children not to snack before a meal for fear of "spoiling our dinner". Well, it's time to forget that old rule. If you feel hungry between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a piece of fruit or small salad, to avoid overeating during your next meal.

Portion control in front of the TV.

When eating or snacking in front of the TV, put the amount that you plan to eat into a bowl or container instead of eating straight from the package. It is so easy to overeat when your attention is focused on something else. And every bite jacks up your food budget.

Portion control when eating in.

To minimize the temptation of second and third helpings when eating at home, serve the food on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table. Keeping the excess food out of reach may discourage overeating. Avoid over-eating and keep your cupboards and refrigerator well-stocked, longer.

Portion control when eating out.

Many restaurants serve more food than one person needs at one meal. Take control of the amount of food that ends up on your plate by splitting an entree with a friend to cut the portion sizes in half. Or, ask the wait person for a "to-go" box and wrap up half your meal as soon as it's brought to the table.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

People tend to consume more when they have easy access to food. Make your home a "portion friendly zone."

  • Replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl.
  • Store especially tempting foods, like cookies, chips, or ice cream, out of immediate eyesight, like on a high shelf or at the back of the freezer. Move the healthier food to the front at eye level.
  • When buying in bulk, store the excess in a place that's not convenient to get to, such as a high cabinet or at the back of the pantry.

Be aware of large packages.

For some reason, the larger the package, the more people consume from it without realizing it. To minimize this effect:

  • Divide up the contents of one large package into several smaller containers to help avoid over-consumption.
  • Don't eat straight from the package. Instead, serve the food in a small bowl or container.


Printable Serving Cards (PDF)
Serving Cards

For a quick reference, I've also made a small chart of common portion sizes. View and-or print it out, if you wish. (A new window will open for you).