How to Pick the Perfect Portion

How to Pick the Perfect Portion

3 easy ways to lose weight and keep it off

When it comes to food portions, Americans are definitely living in a supersized world. Portion sizes have increased dramatically over the past 20 years, so those huge, calorie-laden servings we once couldn't finish no longer seem excessive.

We've become so accustomed to large portions at fast-food joints and many of our favorite restaurants that, as a result, we've followed suit in the amount of food we dish up for ourselves at home. And, unfortunately, our waistlines are keeping pace with our expanded appetites.

But the solution is simple: Readjust your food goggles so you can spot a sensible serving size. And remember -- bigger isn't always better. Here are three tips to help:

1. Retrain Your Eyes
Whether you are trying to lose weight or simply maintain your current weight, making the right decisions about the amount of food you eat is just as important as the kinds of food you eat. And here's a bonus: Opting for reasonable portions allows you to eat the foods you enjoy and still take off pounds.

The first step is to retrain your eyes to recognize the difference between a healthy serving and a hefty one. Take a look at this visual-comparison table to get a better sense of what proper serving sizes look like:

Healthy Serving Size

  • 3 ounces lean meat, chicken, or fish = A deck of cards
  • 1.5 ounces of cheese = 4 playing dice
  • Baked potato = Your fist
  • 1/2 cup of ice cream/frozen yogurt = 1/2 tennis ball
  • 1 pancake = A compact disc (CD)
  • 1/2 of a 3-inch bagel = A can of tuna

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Tableware Tip

Are your dishes more like platters than plates? Try serving meals on smaller (9-inch) plates instead of large dinner plates. You'll satisfy that psychological need for a full plate of food, but you'll be eating more reasonably sized portions.

2. Don't Be Fooled by Food Labels
Comparing food labels before you buy is another good way to make healthier portion picks. But beware -- a quick glance at a label might not give you the whole story. Here's why: If you're like most of us, you check the calorie listing first. That's fine, but it's also important to check the serving size listed on the label.

Take, for example, two packages of cookies:

  • Cookie A lists 160 calories per serving.
  • Cookie B lists 80 calories per serving.

Easy decision, right? Not so fast, cookie monster. Look closer and you'll see that a serving size for cookie A equals three cookies, while a serving of cookie B equals just one cookie. Become a food-label expert in no time with these tips.

3. Check Nutrition Information on Menus
Eating out doesn't mean you have to forgo proper portions. Many popular chain restaurants now provide nutrition information on their menus, so pay attention to the details, and choose wisely. Check out our rundown of the best and worst choices at five popular restaurant chains.

But at other restaurants, where huge portions are the norm and menus don't include nutrition info, the choice may not be so clear. An easy way to cut calories when dining out is to order a child- or appetizer-size plate, split a starter and main dish with your companion, or ask for a doggy bag when your order arrives (rather than at the end of the meal), so you can put aside part of your portion up front. 

Putting these steps into practice will help keep you from overeating without realizing it.

So go ahead and treat yourself to an ice cream cone or a couple of cookies from time to time. If you do it in moderation, it won't derail your healthy diet, and it'll be easier to stick to a healthful eating plan if you get to include foods you enjoy.

By becoming mindful of proper portions, you'll be well on your way to healthier eating habits that can help you not only lose weight but also keep it off for good.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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