Understanding Serving Sizes

A well balanced meal is the result of combining nutritious foods, in the right proportions. Becoming mindful of food serving sizes, and using them to guide meal planning, can help you prevent weight gain caused by overeating, and develop a healthy diet that contains adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein. 

What is a Serving Size?

Serving sizes, sometimes called portions, are an easy way to manage and track how much you're eating throughout the day. You may be familiar with the serving sizes listed on nutrition labels, like the example in the sidebar, which are found on packaged foods and beverages. Measuring cups or spoons, or a kitchen scale, can help you learn what these amounts look like, and eventually be able to manage your serving sizes by sight alone. If measuring your servings isn't feasible, try using smaller dishes. Studies have found that people using small plates or bowls will eat less than those using large plates or bowls. 

Since many foods don't have nutrition labels, like fresh fruits and vegetables, deli meats or dishes served at a restaurant, a few references may be needed to estimate a proper serving size. In the sidebar is a visual guide to help you approximate your serving sizes using common objects. These amounts can help guide your meal planning, and make you more aware of how much you're eating at a restaurant. 

Eating outside of the home, whether in a sit-down or fast food restaurant, can often result in overeating. The portions typically served at restaurants far exceed the recommended serving sizes for most foods. Combined with a never-ending bread basket, it’s very easy to eat an entire day’s worth of calories in a single meal at a restaurant. Overeating is preventable with just a few simple tricks:

  • Split an entrée with a friend, which saves you both money
  • Ask for a to-go box after your order arrives, so you can leave only one serving of food on your plate
  • Skip the soda, which contains lots of extra, empty calories
  • Substitute the French fries for a salad or fruit
  • Eat slowly, and allow your body adequate time to signal your satiety


Read more about “Portion Distortion” here.

Example Nutrition Label

Click Below For Some Simple Serving Size References