Size Up Your Portions

Being aware of your portion sizes can help you follow your MyPlate eating plan and stay within your daily calorie goal.
Size Up Your Portions - Articles
Size Up Your Portions

Nutrition Information

Do you know how much food you eat? Here are a few terms to keep in mind:

Food serving

A standard amount of food listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of a food package as defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2018 these will be changed to reflect more typically consumed sizes.

Food portion

The amount of food that you are served in a restaurant or at home. You can compare your food portions to USDA's MyPlate food group amounts, which are measured in cups or ounces.

Tip: Use a smaller plate to help you limit your food portions.

Portion sizes of many foods have grown dramatically in the past few decades. Studies also show that most Americans eat whatever amount is put in front of them. These facts make it important to know your portion sizes. There are no right or wrong portion sizes, but eating "reasonable" portion sizes will help you keep or work toward a healthy weight. Consider this example for a woman following 1,800 calories based on USDA's healthy meal plans and eating a spaghetti dinner. At 1,800 calories, the grain group allowance is 6 ounces.

  • 2 cups cooked spaghetti = 4 ounces from grain group (½ cup cooked spaghetti = 1 ounce)
  • 2 ounces from the grain group are available for the rest of the day

By being aware of the amount of spaghetti typically eaten, she can plan to limit her grains to 2 ounces for the rest of the day. This will allow her to stay at 6 ounces of grains for her 1,800 calorie plan, or she may decide to reduce the amount of spaghetti she eats and eat the grains saved at another meal.

The serving size on the Nutrition Facts panel is not a recommended amount to eat. It is based on a reference or standard amount that most people eat of a specific category of food, such as cookies. This standard serving size lets the manufacturer express the nutrients in that food so they can be compared with similar products. For instance, you can compare the saturated fat in two types of cookies since they have very similar serving sizes by weight. This is useful if, for example, you are trying to reduce the saturated fat in your diet.

Use MyPlate's recommended food portion sizes as a guide. They are measured in either ounces or cups. The amount in parentheses after each group listed below is what's recommended for an 1,800 calorie diet for the entire day for ages 14 and up. Knowing these standardized food amounts for your calorie level can help with weight control.

Grains (6 ounces equivalent) 1 ounce equals:

  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal

Vegetables (2½ cups) 1 cup counts as:

  • 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup 100 percent vegetable juice
  • 1 cup cooked dry beans
  • 2 cups raw leafy greens

Fruits (1½ cups) 1 cup counts as:

  • 1 cup cut-up fruit
  • 1 cup 100 percent fruit juice
  • ½ cup dried fruit
  • 1 piece fruit

Dairy (3 cups) 1 cup counts as

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1½ ounces hard cheese
  • 2 ounces processed cheese
  • 1 cup fortified soy beverage

Protein (5 ounces) 1 ounce equals:

  • 1 ounce meat, poultry, or fish
  • ¼ cup cooked dry beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • ½ ounce nuts or seeds

Limit

  • Sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day
  • Saturated fat to 20 grams a day
  • Added sugars to 45 grams a day

Measure It

When eating away from home, use the palm of your hand to estimate portion sizes. In general, a woman's palm or two-thirds of a man's palm is equal to 3 ounces or ½ cup.

When you are at home, place the amount of food you usually eat on a plate. Then measure it to find out your portion size. After you have done this a few times, your "eye" will tell you the size of the portion.

Test your knowledge of how portion sizes have changed and how many calories need to be burned to make up the difference at Portion Distortion I and II, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

To learn what your individual calorie need and food group amounts are, go to ChooseMyPlate.gov website and click on Daily Checklist.

Examine Your Choices

FoodSourceWhat I do nowWhat I plan to change
PastaSpaghetti and meatballsEat 2 cups or more with 3 large meatballs (1,020 calories)Measure 1 cup of pasta with 3 small meatballs (500 calories) and learn to eyeball this size for the future so I don't overeat

My Goal: __________________________________________________________

Sources

U.S. Department of Agriculture. "MyPlate Daily Checklist."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Blood, Lung, and Heart Institute. "Portion Distortion." April 1, 2015.

Originally prepared by Cathy Guffey, extension educator, and Lynn James, extension educator. Revised by Stacy Reed, extension educator.

Authors

Nutrition research and education Diabetes education Child overweight prevention Food Safety education Food Preservation

More by Lynn James, MS, RDN, LDN 

Cathy Guffey