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Portion size


It can be hard to measure out every portion of food you eat. Yet there are some simple ways to know that you are eating the right serving sizes.

A recommended serving size is the amount of each food that you are supposed to eat during a meal or snack. A portion is the amount of food that you actually eat. If you eat more or less than the recommended serving size, you will get either too much or too little of the nutrients you need.

You can use your hand and other everyday objects to measure portion sizes:

  • One serving of meat or poultry = the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
  • One 3-ounce (84 grams) serving of fish = a checkbook
  • One-half cup (120 mL) of ice cream = a tennis ball
  • One serving of cheese = 4 dice
  • One-half cup (95 grams) of cooked rice, pasta, or snacks such as chips or pretzels = a rounded handful, or a tennis ball
  • One serving of a pancake or waffle = a compact disc
  • Two tablespoons (30 mL) of peanut butter = a ping-pong ball

Adults should eat about 2 cups (300 grams) of fruit and about 2 ½ cups (375 grams) of vegetables a day. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables each day may help prevent cancer. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and high in fiber. They will also help you fill up so that you eat less of high-fat foods.

How to measure out serving sizes of fruits and vegetables:

  • One cup (150 grams) of chopped raw fruits or vegetables = a woman's fist or a baseball
  • One medium apple or orange = a tennis ball
  • One-quarter cup (37.5 grams) of dried fruit or nuts = a golf ball or small handful
  • One cup (150 grams) of lettuce = 4 leaves (Romaine lettuce)
  • One medium baked potato = a computer mouse

To control your portion sizes when you're eating at home, try the following tips:

  • Don't eat from the bag. You'll be tempted to eat too much. Use the serving size on the package to portion out the snack into small bags or bowls. You can also buy single-serving portions of your favorite snack foods.
  • Serve food on smaller plates. Eat from a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. Keep serving dishes on the kitchen counter so you'll have to get up for seconds. Putting your food out of easy reach will make it harder for you to overeat.
  • Substitute lower-fat varieties of food. Instead of whole-fat cream cheese, sour cream, and milk, buy low-fat or skim instead.
  • Don't eat mindlessly. When you snack in front of the television, while doing other activities, or while talking on the telephone, you'll be distracted enough that you may eat too much. Eat at the table. Focus your attention on your food so you'll know when you've had enough to eat.
  • Snack between meals. If you are hungry between meals, eat a healthy, high-fiber snack such as a piece of fruit, small salad, or bowl of broth-based soup. The snack will fill you up so that you don't eat too much at your next meal.

To control your portion sizes when eating out, try these tips:

  • Order small. Instead of a medium or large, ask for the smallest size. By eating a small hamburger instead of a large, you'll save about 150 calories. A small order of fries will save you about 300 calories, and a small soda will save 150 calories. Never super-size your order.
  • Share your meal. Split an entrée with a friend, or cut your meal in half when it arrives. Put one half in a to-go box before you start eating. You can have the rest of your meal for lunch the next day.
  • Fill up with lower calorie foods. Order a small salad, fruit cup, or cup of broth-based soup before your entrée. It will fill you up so that you eat less of your meal.
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Review Date: 1/30/2018

Reviewed By: John E. Meilahn, MD, Bariatric Surgery, Chestnut Hill Surgical Associates, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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