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Making Sense of Portion Sizes


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Making Sense of Portion Sizes

Portion sizes in the past 20 years have changed tremendously. Larger plates, cup holders, muffin tins and pizza pans are becoming the norm and now appear typical.

But what exactly is a portion size? Many Americans believe that a portion size is what is placed in front of them in a restaurant, however, restaurant portions are sometimes 3 times the size of recommended portion sizes. Often times we tend to underestimate the amount of food we eat and overestimate the recommended portion sizes for many foods.

Portion sizes are only part of the equation; you must also know how much you need to eat. Based on a 2000 calorie diet a typical meal would consist of 2-3 oz of meat, ½ cup pasta, rice, or potatoes, ½ cup vegetables, ½ cup fruit, and 1 cup of low fat milk. To discover your personal calorie needs visit SuperTracker. Relating the portion size of a serving to everyday items is an easy way to visualize what a true portion size looks like.

Woman’s fist or baseball – a serving of vegetables or fruit -Aim for 9 servings a day for adults and learn more about portion sizes for kids at MyPlate.

A rounded handful – about one half cup cooked or raw veggies or cut fruit, a piece of fruit -this is a good measure for a snack serving, such as baked blue tortilla chips or whole grain pretzels.

Deck of cards – is a 3 ounce serving of meat, fish or poultry or the palm of your hand (don’t count your fingers!) – for example, one chicken breast, ¼ pound hamburger patty or a medium pork chop-for adults, aim for 2 decks of cards of meat per day.

  • Golf ball or large egg – one quarter cup of dried fruit or nuts
  • Tennis ball – about one cup of pasta or ready to eat cereal
  • Computer mouse – small baked potato
  • Compact disc – one serving of pancake or small waffle
  • Thumb tip – one teaspoon of peanut butter
  • 3 domino blocks – a 1 ½ ounce serving of hard cheese
  • Checkbook – a serving of fish (approximately 3 oz.)
  • Eyeball it! – Take a look at the recommended serving sizes on the label

Get out a measuring cup and practice measuring some of your favorite foods onto a plate, so that you can see how much (or how little!) a ½ cup or 3-ounce serving is. This will help you “eyeball” a reasonable serving!

Losing weight and keeping it off is a lifelong commitment. The bottom line is calories in must equal or be less than calories out. Include a wide range of healthy foods and colors, emphasizing lean meats, whole grains, low fat dairy products and fruits and vegetables. When cutting back to lose weight, you want to ensure that you are getting all the vitamins, minerals and health-promoting phytonutrients you need to keep both your body and mind strong.

We all know it isn’t easy to lose weight, but by just making a few simple changes and by cutting out as few as 150 calories from your typical daily eating pattern you could be on your way to a healthy weight loss. Cutting out 150 calories is as easy as 1 less soda a day, 1 cup of breakfast cereal vs. 2, or ordering a tall Mocha made with skim milk and no whip vs. a regular Mocha Grande. Cutting out more calories will result in greater weight loss, but losing weight slowly at around 1 to 2 pounds per week will help improve long term weight management success. Please note that reducing calories is not recommended for overweight children and adolescents unless supervised with a multidisciplinary team approach that includes a physician and registered dietitian.

See Rethink that Drink for more on hidden calories in beverages and The SMART Way to Lose Weight to help reach you goals.


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About the Author

Erin is an outpatient dietitian who counsels patients on nutrition-related diagnoses, including hypertension, high cholesterol, adult and pediatric weight management, eating disorders, allergies and gastric bypass. Erin also works within the local school district to lead the implementation of their wellness policy. She completed her Certification in Childhood and Adolescent Weight Management from the American Dietetic Association. Erin’s passion is helping people transform small steps into lifestyle changes.

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