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How do I control my food portion sizes at restaurants?

I really like the Idaho plate method. It’s a way to portion food without having to understand specific measurements. All you have to do is divide the plate in half, fill one side with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with protein and another quarter with carbohydrates. It’s a nice proportion and still allows you to have a little bit of everything.

Most restaurants serve extra-large portions. So ask for a half-order, or split an entrée with someone. Eat until you're satisfied—then ask for a doggie bag to take home any leftovers. If you're eating fast food, keep in mind that "value size" meals often contain more calories than you should eat in an entire day! So make it a rule never to order the jumbo sizes—order the kid's meal instead.

Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Working with a registered dietitian is a great way to brainstorm ideas on portion control.

One way to control your portions is by asking for a to-go box when you order or asking the wait staff to box up half and bring the other half to you when delivering your food.

Another idea is by thinking about what you actually need vs. what you want- pay attention to your appetite awareness and remembering you only need to be satisfied not stuffed.

Order a side salad so that you get full of a lower calorie item such as vegetables prior to the main dish being brought out.

Sharing is a great way to assist in portion size reduction whether it comes to a main meal or dessert.

Ordering off the kids meal or small plates/bite options.

Working with a registered dietitian is a great way to brainstorm ideas on portion control.

Brooke Randolph
Marriage & Family Therapy Specialist

When I go out to eat, which happens a few times each week for business things, I stretch my dollar and shrink my waistline by making sure to save some to take home, leaving me leftovers to look forward to. If I stick strictly to this principle, it will also prevent me from ordering French fries, which rarely warm up well.

In general, the servings at restaurants are obscene compared to the size of your stomach (about the size of your hand when empty). I have certainly gotten used to eating more than that at a meal. We have also all heard that it is better to eat several small meals throughout the day than just a few big meals. It is easier to restrict my intake when I know that if I am hungry again in a few hours, I can eat the rest. The same idea works at home, too, where we often eat more in a sitting than what can fit in our stomach.

Americans in general are not very good with delayed gratification, but it works for me to think about having something to look forward to and extending my experience, rather than self-restriction.

Struggling with your healthy eating goals at a restaurant? One important component of eating healthfully at a restaurant is maintaining sensible and appropriate portion sizes. Try these tips:

  • Instead of a large entrée, order an appetizer and a leafy green salad or choose two appetizers for a meal.
  • Start with a small serving like a cup of soup, a junior burger or a small order of fries. If you are still hungry, order something else.
  • Indulge your inner child: Order a kid's meal at a fast-food restaurant. Many now offer a choice of low-fat milk and fruits or vegetables instead of fries.
  • Savor your steak twice as much. Eat half at the restaurant, then take the other half home to enjoy sliced onto a green salad or as a sandwich on whole-grain bread.
  • Ask for a to-go box as soon as your meal is served. Put half your food into the container for a second meal. That's two meals for the price of one.
  • Share from start to finish. Order one appetizer for the whole table and then order one dessert with multiple forks. Sometimes, just a bite or two is perfect.
  • Share an entree. You can ask your server to split the meal in the kitchen or divide it up yourselves at the table.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.