Basic Serving Size Probably a Surprise, When Choosing Portions, Try to Keep Them as Close as Possible to Recommended Serving Sizes

— Written By Christine Smith and last updated by Kim Davis

Last week I urged you to measure out food so that you got a better idea of what a serving is. What did you think after measuring out your meal? Did you think you were fixing a plate for someone other than yourself? You are not alone.

I am sure many of you were surprised at how little food a serving size actually is. I’ll be the first to admit measuring out food was not the issue – not returning for seconds was the most challenging. We are so accustomed to ladling out super sized portions, believing that we have dished out only a serving and wondering why we are gaining so much weight. Be aware it’s not just what we eat that matters, but also how much we eat.

Serving size savvy: Recognizing appropriate serving sizes is as important as knowing how many servings you need. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when selecting your serving sizes.

  • 1/2 a cup of fruit, cooked vegetables, pasta or rice = a small fist
  • 3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry or fish = a deck of cards or the size of your palm
  • 1 ounce of cheese = 4 dice
  • 1 teaspoon of margarine or butter = a thumb tip
  • 1 serving of snack foods (pretzels, chips) = a small handful

Portion-control tips:

  • In restaurants, split a meal or eat half of the entrée and take the rest home to enjoy the next day.
  • Use smaller plates and bowls at home. It will look like you are eating more. You are more likely to eat more if you have a larger plate.
  • Buy smaller packages of candy, popcorn and chips.
  • Eat slower and savor your food. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you are full.
  • For a balanced meal, use the two-thirds, one-third rule. Vegetables, grains and fruits should occupy about two-thirds of the plate and meat, poultry or fish the remaining one-third.
  • Measure servings at home with a food scale and measuring cups until you become comfortable estimating the sizes.
  • Have soup or salad first. People in studies who consumed soup or salad before a meal were shown to eat less. Most soups and salads will also help you save calories. Just watch the dressing and anything that is cream-based.
  • Stay hydrated. Your body can confuse hunger and thirst. If you keep hydrated you’ll be less likely to eat instead of drink.

Learning to recognize and control portion sizes is a crucial step in eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you overdo it at a meal occasionally, balance out that indulgence by eating less at the next meal or increase your physical activity.

Thought to ponder:

One should eat to live, not live to eat. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. ~ Doug Larson

Christine Smith is an Extension Agent in the department of Family & Consumer Sciences with N.C. Cooperative Extension, NCSU. Information on other services available can be found online at