Serving sizes and portion control are an area where a lot of people struggle. I know I have. When it comes to improving your health and fitness, it is the eating right portion that is the hardest part. When you really consider it, focusing on exercising for about an hour 3 times a week really isn’t much when compared to how much time we spend with food.
The average person eats three meals a day, every day. So, food keeps popping up multiple times a day. Which makes it more difficult to make sure you are making the best choices.
And when so many foods taste so good, it can be hard to stick to the right serving size and control those portions.
But you are in luck because I am going to show you guidelines for what your serving sizes should be, as well as a super simple way to measure them, and give you some tips to help with portion control. When combined, you will be on the right track in no time!
Serving Sizes Definition
A serving size is a standardized amount of food or a recommended amount of food. If you look on a nutrition label, it will tell you the serving size along with all of the nutrition facts for that serving size. For more on how to read a nutrition label, check out this post.
To maintain a healthy diet, we also have recommended amounts for certain food groups. Some of you may recognize this as the serving sizes on the food pyramid. Now it has been upgraded to MyPlate.
Keep in mind that these are to be used as a reference. Depending on different factors, such as age, activity level, and goals, the serving sizes you want will vary. For example, I am not trying to lose weight, just stay fit, so I can have 5 servings of carbs a day. If I wanted to lose weight, I might try reducing that to help.
If you are looking for more information on calories, which go hand in hand with serving sizes, take a moment and read Calories
Define Portion Control
Do not confuse portion control with serving size. A serving size is the recommended amount you should have, portion control refers to the amount you actually eat.
For example, if you look at the serving size on a bag of Doritos, you will see that a serving is about 11 chips. But, if you love Doritos, you may eat more than 11 chips, meaning you had a larger portion size.
Portion control is important to help you maintain a healthy well-balanced diet.
Common Serving Sizes
Since we are talking about a well-balanced diet, you need to know what those recommended serving sizes are for the foods you should be eating. Here is a list of the major food groups and what their single serving sizes are:
Meat/ Poultry: 3-4 ounces
Vegetables: ½ Cup Cooked or 1 Cup Raw
Fruits: 1 Cup
Fats: 1 Tbsp
Dairy: 1 Cup
It is also helpful to know what the serving sizes of popular foods are, so here is a list of commonly searched foods:
Serving size of Salmon: 3-4 ounces
Strawberries: 1 Cup or 8 Large Berries
Grapes: 1 Cup or 32 Grapes
Quinoa: 3.5 ounces
Tomato: 1 Cups Chopped
Spinach: 1 Cup
Broccoli: 1 Cup
Banana: 1 Large
Apple: 1 Small or 4 ounces
Blueberries: ½ Cup
Avocado: 50g or 1/3 Medium
Rice: ½ Cup Cooked
Oats: ½ Cup Dry
Yogurt: 1 Cup
Carrots: 1 Cup or 12 Baby Carrots
Potato: 1 Medium or 1 Cup
Celery: 2 Large Stalks
Peppers: 1 Large or 1 Cup
As you can see, a lot of the serving sizes are similar for the food group that it is in, such as 1 cup for most vegetables. This makes it pretty easy to keep what a serving size should look like. But, if you can’t get your portion control under control, this might not mean much to you.
How To Portion Control
I had a problem with portion control for a while. I love food and I’m not super picky, so it was easier for me to eat larger portions. The real problem was, I didn’t even realize I was doing it! I found out I had this problem when I gained a little weight around my midsection. I wasn’t eating any differently and my activity level was still the same. So, I started to pay attention and found out where the problem was. Those pesky portion sizes.
I did some research to find how I could more easily manage my portions, as well as my husbands. And I found a lot of great tips to help with portion control.
Before we get into that, I want to make it clear that just because you control how much you eat, doesn’t mean that you can’t be full and satisfied. Or that you have to eat small portions of everything, which you will find in the tips.
Focus On Serving Size
We talked about serving size so you understand what it is, so it should be easy for you to understand that if you focus on proper serving sizes, you can help control your portions. For example, you know a serving of pasta is 2 oz so you know you shouldn’t be eating five times that for one meal.
You might be thinking that there is no way you are going to measure out all your foods. That is just too much work. And you’re right! That is such a pain and takes time that you don’t have. So, this of your serving sizes like this. Your palm is a serving of protein, your fist a serving of vegetables, a cupped hand is for carbs, and a thumb is for your fats.
I found this tip and it was a game changer for me. It is so easy to relate those items to your hand it’s ridiculous. Plus, your hands are always with you so there is really no way not to measure.
If you didn’t read my Calorie Post, I do suggest checking it out. There is a section in there where I talk about this as well. Precision Nutrition’s Calculator shows you how many calories you should have based on your goal, such as weight loss, but they also break down what your servings for each meal should look like. I printed mine and my husband’s off and put them on the fridge so we can always keep portion control in mind.
Portion Control Plates
There are so many different portion control plates out there. If you are one that is having a hard time with this, getting a divided plate might be just what you need. These plates, as the one pictured below, divide your plate up into appropriate portions of what you should be eating.
This helps to remind you of the portion sizes you should be having for each food group and helps you to keep those foods to that size.
I do want to point out that this is really just for reference. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, you probably wouldn’t fill your plate every time you eat. You might scale a section or two back a little bit.
Containers For Portion Control
This is the same as the portion control plate, but made as a container that you can take with you. This is perfect for bringing to work so you don’t have to worry about your portion control once you get to work.
You can even step up your game and meal prep for the week. This is an easy way to have your healthy meals ready to go and with adequate serving sizes.
I used this method for a while as well. My portion control wasn’t always what I was eating, but how much. So, I considered the portion control plate but I already had smaller plates at home, so I thought I would try that first. And it worked!
Using the smaller plate is great because you can fill it up, which is a smaller portion size than a regular large plate, and to your brain it seems like a lot of food because the plate is full. It is kind of like playing a trick on your brain so when you are eating you feel like you are having a substantial amount of food and your stomach feels satisfied.
Having a glass of water before you eat can also help you reduce your portion sizes. Water, although it has no calories, can make you feel fuller.
Plus, our bodies can confuse being thirsty for being hungry. By starting with a glass of water, your body can determine just how hungry it actually is.
I have been trying to incorporate this more while eating to help portion control. Our bodies are amazing but not perfect. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize you are full. Think of all the food you could eat in that amount of time!
That is where eating slowly comes in. Take a breath between bites and talk to your partner or children. This is going to help you eat slower and make sure your body knows when it if full before you overeat.
And getting away from distractions like the TV and your phone can help as well. When you are distracted, it is hard for you to focus on when you are actually full.
Watch Eating Out
When you go out to eat the portion sizes are typically much larger than what you would make at home. To help keep up with your portion control, see if you can get your meal in a half size.
Or ask for a to-go container right away. Then, when your food comes, you can put a share into the box before you start eating. You won’t overeat and you have a meal for tomorrow.
Fill Up On Veggies
Vegetables are very healthy for you, they are low in calories, and they fill you up. Plus, veggies are very versatile. They go with almost anything you eat, as a side or part of the dish.
Spinach is great as a salad or on your sandwich. You want to make a big change, try using a Romaine Lettuce leaf in place of bread on your sandwich.
So, load up you plate with veggies on the side or increase the amount in a main dish. Fajitas can be made without meat and they are still delicious.
Make Carbs A Topper Instead
This is a great way to portion control those carbs. They seem to get out of hand with me if I don’t rein them in. Instead of starting with a carbohydrate as a base to a dish, flip it and make it as the topper. Think of a parfait. Typically you see granola on the bottom followed by the yogurt and fruit. Try putting the yogurt, fruit, and a topping of granola. This helps to cut down on the amount you have because toppings are a smaller serving than using it as a base.
Serve Your Food
Don’t just eat out of a box or the cook wear you made your food in. Make sure to actually serve yourself a portion of food. It is easier to overeat when all of that food is right in front of you. And, by eating this way, you don’t notice when you have eaten a serving size because you aren’t really paying attention. If you have to actually get up to get more food, you can also ask yourself if you are really still hungry.
If you need to, with foods such as chips, divide it up into portions when you buy it. That way, you can just grab a single serving size rather than an uncontrolled portion.
Now You Know Serving Sizes Take Back Portion Control
It is easy to see how so many people confuse serving size and portion size. But you are not on track to take control. You should now have working knowledge that a serving size is a recommended amount of food while your portion size is the amount you actually eat.
And by understanding what typically serving sizes are for your main food categories, such as 1 cup or 1 fist of vegetables, you are in a better position for portion control.
When you use tips, like focusing on serving sizes, loading up on vegetables, eating slowly, using smaller plates, or portion control plates, you will be able to get your eating habits under control and ensure you aren’t overeating.
This not only helps if you are looking to lose weight, but helps make sure you having nutritious meals.
So, keep serving sizes in mind and try out some of these tips. In the comments I want to hear which one worked best for you!