There's no shortage of food in the U.S. and Americans' waistlines are bearing the brunt of larger and larger portion sizes at cheaper prices. Restaurants advertise endless bowls of pasta or cheap combo meals when what would benefit us is the exact opposite. Even the phrase "healthy serving" has come to mean how much food you get instead of the quantity that is optimal for your health and weight maintenance, resulting in portion distortion.

So, what is the correct portion size? To find the answer, we must first define the terms portion and serving size. A portion is how much you choose to eat of an item. A portion may be what you receive on a plate from a restaurant, the number of crackers in a box, or the amount of green beans you put on your plate at home. A serving is a defined quantity on the nutrition label of a packaged food. There may be more than one serving per package, even if the package is small.

It is even more important to recognize that the listed serving size is not necessarily the recommended quantity to consume. The listed serving size is based on the FDA list of foods that has quantified calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein. Recommended serving sizes are set based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The serving size on the label may be the same as the recommended serving size, yet it doesn't have to be.

So what should one serving look like?

  • 1 slice whole wheat bread = CD case
  • ½ cup rice = cupcake wrapper or ½ of a baseball
  • ½ cup cooked pasta = cupcake wrapper or ½ of a baseball
  • 1 cup of whole grain cereal flakes = baseball
  • 1 oz of cheese = a matchbox
  • 3 oz cooked meat or poultry = deck of cards
  • 3 oz cooked fish = Medi-Weightloss® Weight Management Journal
  • 1 cup of raw vegetables = baseball
  • ½ cup of cooked vegetables = light bulb
  • ½ medium baked potato = computer mouse
  • ½ cup fruit = 1 small apple, orange, or 15 grapes
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter = golf ball
  • 1 tsp butter, salad dressing = poker chip

How to Control Portions

  • When dining out, ask your server for a to-go box and, before eating, transfer half of your meal and set it aside. You can also ask whether you're allowed to order from the kids menu as the portions typically are smaller.
  • If you are eating at home, use your measuring cups to help you determine proper servings. It will help you recognize what a correct serving looks like. You can also try using salad plates, which are smaller than dinner ones. You'll have a full plate with less food.
  • When eating something from a package, read the label. There is likely more than one serving. Divide the servings and place them in plastic zipper bags so that you don't eat too much. Having correct portions readily available will help you stay on track.
  • Begin meals with a small salad, using low-calorie dressing, or a brothlike soup. This will help you fill up on lower-calorie items and eat less of the main meal.
  • Choose foods with fiber and high water content as they are typically high volume items that will fill you up and keep you full longer.
  • Remember to treat yourself every once in a while so that you do not overindulge when you just can't resist temptation!