Making Portions Equal Servings

By Diane Ruyack

Today, one large obstacle is that most people are serving-size challenged, thanks to today’s large portions: mega-muffins, heaping plates of pasta, behemoth burgers and extra-large bagels. According the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a “portion” can be thought of as the amount of a specific food you choose to eat. Portions can be bigger or smaller than the recommended food servings. A “serving” is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group. For example, a recommended serving of whole grains would be one slice of bread or a half cup of rice or pasta. Current recommendations are for 6 to 11 servings of whole grains a day.

Measure your food with measuring cups and spoons and keep a food diary, comparing your typical servings (and calories) with the standard serving sizes listed on food labels. In a study  published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, it was found those who pre-measured their food were the most accurate judges of standard portion sizes. After a week of measuring and comparing, you’ll have a solid sense of what a half-cup of cereal or a teaspoon of mayonnaise looks like. With french fries, potato chips, M and Ms and other hand-to-mouth, tough-to-measure foods, count out a serving beforehand. Another way to check portion size is to use the palm of your hand as the right amount for meat, chicken or fish. With peanut butter, a standard serving is about the size of a ping pong ball, or two tablespoons. A standard serving of ketchup or low-fat or nonfat salad dressing is the size of an Oreo. An appropriate amount of cooked rice or pasta — not the double portion restaurants typically serve — equals the size of one-half of a baseball, or half a cup. So does a serving of vegetables, with the exception of mashed potatoes, a normal amount of which resembles an ice-cream scoop. For potato chips, aim for the amount in those tiny bags that go in kids’ lunch boxes.

Here are tips for maintaining appropriate portion sizes:

  • Order the regular or child-size portion. Mega-sized servings are probably more than you need. For a lighter meal, order a healthy appetizer in place of a main course.
  • Be size-wise about muffins, bagels, croissants and biscuits. A jumbo muffin has more than twice the fat and calories of a regular size.
  • Hunger may drive you to eat too much bread before your meal arrives. Hold the bread or chips until your meal is served or not at all.
  • Tempted by sweet desserts? Order one dessert with enough forks for everyone at the table to have a bite.
  • Split your order. Share an extra large sandwich or main course with a friend or take half home for another meal.

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