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Explore nutrition tips, kids’ meal plans, kids’ activities, recipes and more from pediatric nutritionist, Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE.

Making Sense of Portion Sizes

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Making Sense of Portion Sizes

Find out what a true portion size is and how you these combine to reach your child’s needs throughout the day!

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. Relating the portion size of a serving to everyday items is an easy way to visualize what a true portion size looks like.

Portion Size Breakdown

Woman’s fist or baseball – a serving of vegetables or fruit

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

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 for your kids!

MyPlate Guidance

You can then learn more about portion sizes for kids depending on their age and gender in our other article Food Portion Sizes for Children: Toddlers to Teens!

The key to a balanced diet for your kids is to include a wide range of healthy foods and colors, emphasizing lean meats, whole grains, low-fat dairy products (after 2 years of age) and fruits and vegetables. This variety will help us know that our children are getting all the vitamins, minerals and health-promoting phytonutrients they need to keep their bodies and minds strong.


See Rethink that Drink for more on hidden calories in beverages.


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About the Author

Picture of Erin Jaskulke, RD, LD

Erin Jaskulke, RD, LD

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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