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A Guide to Sensible Portion Sizes

A Guide to Sensible Portion Sizes

It’s not only what you eat, but also how much that counts. Sensible portion sizes have a direct effect on the number of calories you eat. Along with making wise food choices, eating sensible portions is key for a healthy weight.

Size-wise Guidelines

A portion is the amount you choose to eat of any food. There are no “right” or “wrong” portion sizes, but it’s important to know how the amounts of foods you eat compare to your recommended daily food group totals. Being sensible portion aware helps you plan your day’s food choices to get enough calories and nutrients without overdoing it on calories which, over time, can lead to weight gain.

What about serving sizes on Nutrition Facts labels? Be aware that these may differ from the portions you choose to eat. Use label serving sizes to identify the calories and nutrients in foods, compare similar foods and calculate the calories and nutrients contained in your portion.

How Much Shoold You Eat?

Your calorie needs determine how much you should eat. To find what’s right for you, go to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov and click on “Get a Personalized Plan.”

Real-life Portions

To know how your portion sizes stack up against recommendations, determine your portion sizes and then add up your daily totals for each food group, oils and “empty” calories. It is okay to eat portions that differ from standard amounts, just be aware of how they add up over the day. The photos on the next page show you how to use your hands to help you estimate the portions of the foods and beverages you choose.

Be Portion-sensible

  • Measure and weigh. Measure or weigh some of your typical portions to spot-check how much you are eating.
  • Resign from the “Clean-Plate Club.” Change your mindset so you don’t feel obligated to finish every morsel on your plate. Focus on enjoying every bite, rather than on eating while doing other things.
  • Downsize your plate. Use a smaller plate or glass so moderate portions look “right-size.” (Did you know that many drinking glasses hold 16 ounces or two servings? And double the calories, too!)
  • Trim your portions. Pick one or two higher-calorie foods at each meal and trim your portion by about one-third. Fill the gaps with veggies and fruits; most people don’t eat enough of these nutrient-rich foods.
  • Control your hunger. Going too long between meals may lead to overeating. Plan to eat a meal or small snack regularly—about every three to four hours.
  • Share and share alike. Split a bagel, sandwich or dessert with a friend.
  • Opt for small servings. When eating out, choose a “small” or “regular” instead of a “large” or “super-size” portion.
  • Divide and conquer. In a restaurant, eat half your portion now and take the rest home.
  • It’s okay to say “no.” Feel free to politely decline offers of large portions or second helpings—unless, of course, you are still hungry.

It’s All in Your Hands: Rules of Thumb on Portion Size Want to understand how the amounts of food you eat (portion sizes) stack up against the amount of food from each food group that is right for you, according to ChooseMyPlate.gov? Try using your hands to visualize the portions you eat. Then compare your typical portions to your daily MyPlate recommendations. Remember that the amounts of foods recommended for you on your personal “Plate” may vary from the portion sizes estimated using this chart.

Do this... To visualize this
measured amount...
Useful for these foods...
One first, Clenched
One first, clenched
8 fl oz
  • Cold and hot beverages
Two Hands, Cupped
Two hands, cupped
1 cup
  • Breakfast cereal (flakes, fun shapes, and O's)
  • Soup
  • Green salads (lettuce, spinach)
  • Mixed dishes (chili, stew, macaroni & cheese)
  • Stir-fries
One hand, cupped
One hand, cupped
1/2 cup
  • Pasta, rice
  • Hot cereal (oatmeal, farina)
  • Fruit salad, berries, applesauce
  • Tomato or spaghetti sauce
  • Beans (all types)
  • Coleslaw, potato salad
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pudding, gelatin
Plam of hand
Palm of hand
3 ounces
  • Cooked meats (ground beef patty, chicken breast, fish fillet, pork loin)
  • Canned fish
Two thumbs together
Two thumbs together
1 tablespoon
  • Peanut butter
  • Salad dressing
  • Sour cream
  • Dips
  • Whipped topping
  • Dessert sauces
  • Margarine
  • Cream cheese
  • Mayonnaise
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