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Using Everyday Items to Estimate Food Portions

Getting portion size right is really important for a healthy diet and weight management.

But, what is a healthy portion of food?

With the current trend to super-size meals, it can be really tough to figure out what a “normal” portion actually looks like.

Most people know the basics about nutrition, however,  you also need to be aware of just how much you are eating.

Food portion sizes vs serving sizes

A food serving helps you understand how much food is recommended from each of the food groups.

In some cases, a food serving may be close to what you actually eat, such as an apple.

At other times, you might serve more than one serving, for example rice or pasta.

A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat.

Since it’s totally impractical to carry weighing scales with you everyday in life to measure out the perfect food portion, being able to estimate what a serving should look like, is really helpful in making sure you don’t overeat.

Often we remember items easier when we can visualise their size, shape or weight, in comparison to something else.

So, relating the portion size of a food to everyday items is an effective method to use, particularly when eating away from home.

Here are some serving size examples…

A rounded handful
One 1/2 cup vegetables or fruit, 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta, or a snack serving of crisps or pretzels

Woman’s fist
Another way of visualising a serving of vegetables, or one piece of whole fruit

Small handful or golf ball
1/4 cup of dried fruit

A matchbox
1 oz serving of meat, or a serving of cheese

Deck of cards, or the palm of your hand (excluding fingers)
3oz serving (recommended serving) of meat, fish or poultry, or ten chips/french fries

Check book
Serving of fish (approximately 3 oz)

Tennis ball
1/2 cup of pasta, or a serving of ice cream

Computer mouse
Medium baked potato

Compact disc
One serving of pancake or small waffle

Thumb tip or one dice
One teaspoon of margarine

A ping pong ball
Two tablespoons of peanut butter

Small milk carton
8 fl oz glass of milk

A baseball
8 fl oz cup of yogurt, one cup of beans, or one cup of dry cereal

It is also a good idea to weigh some of your favorite foods, and try to remember what they look like on your plate. You will then be able to see what a 1/2 cup, or 3 oz serving looks like, for example.

This will help you to visualise what an appropriate serving looks like, and it will go a long way to help to prevent overeating, too.

If you’re struggling with your food portion sizes, check out 7 Ways to Downsize Your Portions.

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Comments 31

  1. derek

    Portion size is something that I know I am bad at and need to improve to get where I want to be. The sizes you reference are helpful as that does make it easier to translate when you are sitting down for a meal.

  2. Melanie

    Yeah it’s just one way of making the choice of food portions a little easier.

    I think this is something most people find difficult too. As I mentioned, extra large fast-food portioning etc have made it really difficult to know if we are choosing healthy portions. And also, it’s difficult not to eat everything we’re served, even if we know the calorie content is massive!!

  3. Melanie

    Saman – I think we’re all guilty of this!!! My weakness is pudding, especially chocolate, I usually can’t refuse a good dessert! :-)

    Family Nutritionist – many thanks for your comment, I regularly visit mypyramid, it really has some great information!

  4. Glenn & Gerry

    We were wondering, how many portions should two people get, out of a 400gm box of Maltesers?
    Yum Yum

  5. kathryn

    This is such a useful post Melanie. We’ve become so disconnected from our portion sizes. Here in Australia the last few years have seen a homewares fashion of buying big plates and big bowls. And yes, they do look beautiful, but it’s encouraged people to eat bigger portions. Clients often laugh at me when I suggest buying smaller crockery, but I find it really helps – you eat less and are still satisfied.

  6. Melanie

    Kathryn – welcome!! Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you about using smaller plates, this is a great piece of advice for clients!

  7. Frank

    This is a good post. I recently watched ‘SuperSize Me’ for the first time and felt very convicted about the size of my portions. It’s good to have a rough guide like you provide here. Thanks.

  8. Melanie

    Frank – glad you found this useful! Sometimes I wonder do representations like this only add to the confusion, as it’s another thing to remember, however i suppose it depends on the readers, and their preferred method of remembering things!!

  9. Lauren

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am having trouble seeing 3 matchboxes equalling 1 deck of cards, however. I guess it’s important to know that these are rough measurements and weighing is the best route.

  10. Melanie

    Hi Lauren,

    Yes, I see what you mean. I suppose it’s just intended to be a guide, for example the palm of my hand won’t be the same size as that of another women’s, or indeed a man’s.

    I tend to weigh foods such as rice and pasta, but am a little more lax on other foods. I also find cup measures to be very handy.

  11. OmitumN

    hey ))
    its very interesting article.
    Good post.
    realy good post

    thx :-)

    OmitumN’s last blog post..No Faxing 100 Percent Online Payday Loan

  12. Katie

    I’m using this website to help with a science project of mine, im trying to get my school to realize no matter how much they dumb down the food, its now what but how much of it we’re eating. Thank you so much for all the help.

  13. Melanie

    Hi Katie,

    Best wishes for your project, it sounds like you’ve got it all sorted! I really hope it goes well. Do you have to do a presentation or is it a written project?

  14. Veronica

    Hey Melanie!
    Great Web-Site! It really helps to remind people how important it is for their portion intake size as well as their food choice.

  15. Cornett

    Men and woman can’t eat the same portion size. My husband is older and gets more exercise than I do. I am a stay at home mom. How much less should I eat or should he eat more.

    1. Melanie

      Hi Cornett,
      I find that filling half your plate with veg, 1/4 with protein and 1/4 with wholegrains is a good rule of thumb for a healthy diet. If your husband is still hungry, he should eat more veg, slightly larger portion of protein, and perhaps a few more healthy snacks throughout the day, than what you eat yourself. If you are eating good quality sources of protein, plenty of veg and drinking lots of water, you will find your appetite regulates itself, without too much trouble.

  16. LaChonen

    I want to thank you for your website. Great info. Just a litte help if you can? My son has dibetes, he just turned 15 years old. Now I am working on feeding him in the right portions. I am having trouble finding the info I am seeking 3 oz of cooked rice to add with the rest of that rice we already added up. Thank You. You doing a great job

    1. Melanie

      Hi e,
      Thanks for your comment.

      I did say that a deck of cards, or the palm of your hand, is equal to a 3oz serving of meat, fish or poultry, which is the recommended size. I have removed the 8 oz meat, as you are right, that is confusing. I was trying to demonstrate what 8 ounces of meat would look like, not that that is the recommended.

      As for the yogurt, 8 fl oz is about a cup, and that is what a serving would be.

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