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Healthy Portion Size Control: Learn Serving Sizes to Manage Weight and Improve Health

Updated on September 26, 2017

Food Portion Sizes are Smaller than You Think!

If you want to lose weight or improve your health, you must first learn portion size control.

Restaurants in America have increased serving portions by 2-3 fold in the past 15 years, putting a lot more on our plate than we should be eating at a single meal. Often, a seemingly healthy salad will contain more calories and fat than we need in an entire day! Its no wonder that we carry these bad habits into our homes when we fix lunches and suppers for ourselves.

It is not difficult to learn the appropriate serving sizes for each of the major food groups, drinks, and even prepackaged foods. In order to achieve proper portion size control, all you'll need are:

(1) a measuring cup;

(2) kitchen scale;

(3) your hands;

(4) a few minutes to learn how to read the Nutrition Facts information printed on the packaging of foods that have been processed in any way and sold in grocery stores.

United States Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid

U.S. Government recommends food portions for your meals
U.S. Government recommends food portions for your meals
What is a serving size of fresh fruit?
What is a serving size of fresh fruit?

How to Measure a Serving Size of Fresh Fruit

You can use your hands to determine a serving size of fresh fruit. Cup your hand, and the amount of fruit that you can fit inside is a single serving of fruit. A medium-sized apple would fit. A small bunch of grapes, would also qualify as a serving. A banana, actually, constitutes two fruit servings.

You may be thinking, but fresh fruit is healthy! Why should I worry about portion size control with fruit? In fact, diabetics must calculate the number of carbohydrates they ingest in relation to insulin or other medication they take each day. Eat too much fruit, and blood sugar will rise too high. Other medical conditions also may require a person to keep a food diary or restrict food intake.

Even if you are otherwise in good health, it will be of benefit to be mindful of how much you are eating and to learn healthy portion size control. Overeating, even healthy foods, is a habit that should be broken. If you wish to lose weight, every calorie counts.

A serving size of fruit is approximately 80-100 calories. Double or triple that, and those healthy calories may sabotage your weight loss goals.

A good balance of fruits and vegetables can help with portion size control
A good balance of fruits and vegetables can help with portion size control
Learn serving sizes of vegetables
Learn serving sizes of vegetables

How to Measure a Serving Size of Fresh Vegetables

Determining a serving size of vegetables is slightly more difficult than for fresh fruit. This is because some root vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and other sweet vegetables like corn and sweet peas are starchy and contain more carbohydrates than vegetables such as leafy greens, radishes, onions, and peppers. For these reasons, it is particularly important to learn appropriate portion size control.

A cup of lettuce or leafy greens is a serving size. This will not usually result in many calories, and no fat, unless you add salad dressing!

The serving size for other vegetables, such as carrots, onions, peppers, radishes, etc., is 1/2 cup chopped. Again, these types of vegetables will not usually have much impact on blood sugar and are not calorie-dense or high on the glycemic index. Turning to potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, a serving size of these vegetables is the size of a baseball. This is similar to the fruit example above, what will fit in a cupped hand.

Anything you add to your vegetables (butter, bacon, sour cream) will obviously add calories and fat.

How to Determine a Serving Size of Food With Your Hands

How to Measure a Serving Size of Protein

In general, a serving size of meat-based protein is 3 ounces (compare this to the gigantic 15 ounce portions they serve at restaurants!) If you have a kitchen scale, you can achieve healthy portion size control fairly easily. Otherwise, you can make an eyeball guess, by thinking of a deck of cards. A serving of steak, chicken, tuna, or pork should not be any larger.

One serving of peanut butter is two tablespoons, or the size of a ping-pong ball. Its pretty easy to go overboard, and peanut butter is loaded with fat and sometimes sugar, too. Be careful!

A single egg is one serving of protein. That's pretty easy to determine. Mother Nature has done the measuring for us!

For vegetarians, a 1/2 cup of cooked legumes/beans is a single serving size. Most beans are low-fat, unlike other protein choices, but they can have more of an impact on blood sugar levels as their carbohydrate count is higher.

How to Judge Proper Serving Sizes of Food

Nutrition Facts information includes Serving Size, Calories, Fat, Carbohydrate, Sugars and Protein
Nutrition Facts information includes Serving Size, Calories, Fat, Carbohydrate, Sugars and Protein

How to Measure a Serving Size of Dairy Products

Dairy is delicious, but can be loaded with fat. For a healthful diet, it is important to carefully watch your portion sizes of dairy products. It is very easy to exceed healthy portion size control. Here's how to measure a serving size of dairy products.

Serving sizes of yogurt and milk are one cup, each. Remember, if Venti lattes are your habit, you could be gulping down over 3 cups of milk in each one! It may be worth cutting down a size or two.

Cheese is so wonderful, its easy to exceed serving sizes! No more than 2 ounces of cheese is a serving size. Think of dominoes. You can have 3 dominoes of cheese. Maybe you want to trade some of your other dairy servings for more cheese.

Ice cream is also a dieter's downfall. If you are going to indulge, a serving size is approximately the size of a baseball. Not two or three baseballs! I suggest getting a really small bowl so that the scoop looks extra big.

Only one scoop is a serving size!
Only one scoop is a serving size!

How to Measure a Serving Size of Grains and Cereal

Serving sizes of bread and grains are often not measured correctly - underestimated. This can lead to both weight gain and complications for people that are on a low-carb diet. You have to be very careful not to exceed healthy portion size control.

A serving size of bread is a single slice, about the size of a deck of cards. Most commercial loaves of bread are larger than this, allowing a single slice of bread to constitute 1.5 - 2 servings. A sandwich would provide you with 4 servings of bread, more than a third of the total amount of grains you should have all day. Give some thought to the type of bread you choose and plan the rest of your day accordingly if you are on a special diet.

Cereal is one type of food where it is very easy to go overboard. A serving size of cereal varies greatly from brand to brand. This information is found directly underneath the bold Nutrition Facts label on your box of ceral. Generally, a serving of cold breakfast cereal is 1/2 - 3/4 cup. Measure it out and you'll probably see that your bowl of breakfast may double or triple the amount of a true serving size.

Servings of pasta and rice are also much smaller than you might guess. A single serving of either of these is approximately the size of a baseball. Think about this next time you heap your plate full of spaghetti. How many balls are there? 5? 8? More?

No wonder many people have difficulty with portion size control and measuring proper servings of pasta.

Measuring a serving size of pasta
Measuring a serving size of pasta

How to Measure Serving Sizes of Prepackaged Foods

Next time you reach for a bag of potato chips or pretzels, take a moment to analyze the Nutrition Facts information. This will often give you the precise number of snacks that will comprise a single serving, i.e. " 11 pretzels." If the bag contains 12 servings, and 1/2 of the bag is depleted after your snack, then you may have just polished off 6 servings!

If you don't have the patience to count out chips or measure popcorn from a bag before snacking, you may want to buy smaller snack-sized bags in single-servings. This will prevent you from going overboard. Some companies have even come up with 100-calorie snacks for the weight conscious. This is quite handy for portion size control!

Meal Measurement

Don't overpour alcoholic beverages if you are trying to be vigilant about portion size control
Don't overpour alcoholic beverages if you are trying to be vigilant about portion size control

How to Measure Serving Size of Drinks

Drinks can impact health goals, as well. Soft drinks have calories and are loaded with sugar. A single-serving is 12 ounces, and generally has approximately 150 calories. A serving of fruit juice is the amount that would fit in a styrofoam cup. Fruit juice has between 80-120 calories per serving.

Don't forget alcoholic beverages. Wine and hard liquor generally have no carbohydrates, but they do have calories. This can sabotage a dieter's efforts. Mixers add calories and sugar. Beer contains both calories and carbs. Even 1 or 2 drinks will add up and have an impact on your health, despite the marginal good effects drinking red wine may have. Its easy to overdo it on the serving sizes here, too.

Get a good grasp on what you are drinking for true portion size control.

A serving size of beer is 12 ounces. Not 20 ounces (not a pint!)

A serving size of wine is 6 ounces. Measure it out and pour it in a glass. It may be less than what you are enjoying most weekends.

A serving size of liquor is 1.5 ounces. Again, measure it and add it to a martini glass. Does it look like it needs more?

Healthy Eating Takes Some Thought

Its really not that difficult to make healthy choices regarding our diets. Getting in the habit of being conscious of what and how we eat much just takes a little bit of practice. Once you realize true serving sizes of the foods and drinks you enjoy each day, you'll be on the road to a healthier lifestyle.


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    • profile image

      Rose Arroyo 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for the useful information

    • crystolite profile image


      8 years ago from Houston TX

      Real and useful article that has what it really takes to serve as a very good advice worthy of emulation by those that don't really know their serving seize.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Sembj - restaurants pile on the food and we are getting used to eating much more than a single portion. Making dinners at home - from scratch rather than a box - is a simple, easy way to get healthy and lose weight. Thanks for the comment. Best, Steph

    • Sembj profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting and useful - I suspect that we all eat a lot more prepacked meals than we used too. I believe that this prepared food is often unhealthy, too many calories as well as too much salt and chemicals! Hopefully more healthy quick meals will become available as we all become a little more educated. Thanks for helping me know how to slim down!

    • profile image

      recettes de perte de poids 

      9 years ago

      Great info stephhicks68! I get new idea from this article. Thanks

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Karanda - I was fortunate enough to meet with a nutritionist who clearly explained healthy portion size control. It really has made all the difference!

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Steph this is fantastic information. The whole thing about portion size has had me puzzled for years. Now I have a way of measuring my daily food intake can change and health improve for the better.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Terrific informational, clear, concise, so much easier to understand than many of the other sites I've read through. Thank you.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Roberta! This is one of the first hubs I wrote, in early 2008. :)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      10 years ago from Central New Jersey

      How did I miss this one-- great hub packed with good info Steph-- thanks

    • stepheny profile image


      10 years ago from united kingdom

      ur hub really helps my mom in making diet. great work

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 

      11 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      our eating habbits is usually the reason why we struggle to loose weight, thanks for this informative hub, it provides a clear idea on the proper portions of food to eat.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      11 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi RGraf, the correlation between portion size and waist size is practically a no-brainer. But its great to trick our brains with smaller plates and to resist seconds. Good for you!


    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin

      You are so right. We've gotten rid of our full size dinner plates and are only using salad plates with a rule of no seconds. We're noticing a difference.

    • Decrescendo profile image


      11 years ago

      Do you have any more to recommend?

    • profile image


      11 years ago from Brazil

      Its really truth!!! Not only in USA but also here in Brazil and many other countries, measure of plates and cups increased enourmously. I learned to run away of supersized portions, controling compulsively the amount of food ingested, and I didn't regret. I already lost 8 kg.

      The secred resides in this relation - small amounts of food each 3 hours, carbohydrates and proteins together to low the glycemic value and exercises.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      11 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Mark and Kat! I'm glad to share the information I have on this. So true about moderation, Kat!

    • Kat07 profile image


      11 years ago from Tampa

      Steph, you are right one the mark. My husband wondered why he gained so much weight over the last year, and it's all about the portions he eats. Everything in moderation!!! : )

    • markcoruk profile image


      11 years ago

      Great Hub really like it a lot nice job well done !!!!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      11 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks for the comments Jason! I hope the article helps the people you work with.

    • profile image

      Jason Stanley 

      11 years ago

      I work with weight loss and overweight people every day - no diets or control methods because overweight is not caused by what we eat but rather by why we eat too much of it which is an emotional/psychological issue - and it is amazing how much and how little the average overweight person knows. Thank you for this article on portions. It is well laid out excellent information with easy to remember guides. I will pass this on to many people.

    • compu-smart profile image


      11 years ago from London UK

      Great article steph!!

      Very usefull tips and a nicely portioned hub..

      Good job;)

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      11 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      That's an excellent idea, Bob. Fortunately (sort of), my diabetes slows me down and makes me very cognizant of serving sizes.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      11 years ago from New Brunswick

      I have a copy of the Canadian version of the food pyrmaid on the wall in the kitchen; serves to remind me.


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