What is a “serving” what is a “portion” and why should I care, anyway?

According to the National Institutes of Health, a “portion” is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package or in your own kitchen.

A “serving” size is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts.

It’s found both on the Food Pyramid, its successor program MyPlate and on Nutrition Labels. The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion sets the standards for these meanings in the United States.

Sometimes the portion size and serving size match; often they don’t. Over the past few years portions have grown significantly in fast food and sit-down restaurants, as has the frequency of Americans eating out. Subsequently, waistlines across the U.S. have grown right along with this trend.

Big portion sizes can mean we’re getting more food than your body can stomach to maintain a healthy weight. So, it’s important to know how much to put on our plates to help control how much we eat:

  • One serving of raw leafy vegetables or a baked potato should be about the size of a small fist.
  • A cup of fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt, or a medium fruit should equal about the size of a baseball.
  • A half a bagel is about the size of a hockey puck and represents a serving from the grains group.
  • Four ounces of cooked lean meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Four ounces of grilled fish is about the size of a checkbook.

Personally, I’ve found the new MyPlate visual very helpful in estimating my portion sizes. See, I seldom stack my food in a pyramid (okay, so maybe the olives at Thanksgiving…) but I know what a plate looks like!

One of the best tips I’ve ever heard for controlling your portions?

Buy smaller plates! For good or for ill, most of us were raised with a fill-your-plate, clean-your-plate mindset. Instead of rewiring that, let’s make it work for us! The average dinner plate is between 10-12 inches (mine are 10.5, I just checked!) By using a 7-8 inch plate, you reduce the amount of available space, while at the same time, creating  a visually satisfying “full plate.”

However, this only works if you follow the “no seconds” rule!

In fact, at our house, dinner is plated up and, before it’s even served, the leftovers are either packaged up for the next days lunch, or popped in the freezer to add to a later recipe. A still-warm casserole dish sitting on the stove is a siren-song of temptation that most of us can’t resist.

Don’t fight it…outsmart  it!

PS – If you really want to make sure you’re doing it right, you can pick up a “MyPlate” plate on Amazon, as pictured above, for about ten bucks.  I think they have kid’s versions too.