Portion Control + Internal Cues = Healthy Combination


Tip # 3 – Watch your portion size 

Eating right is more than choosing the right foods.  You have to be mindful about portion sizes.  It is important to know that we often use the words serving and portion interchangeably but for most, there is a difference.   Serving size is the recommended amount from a food group that helps you meet the daily intake guidelines.  As an example: achieving at least 3 servings of vegetables per day may sound difficult, but when you find out a serving size is generally ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw – that might seem more achievable for you!  Portion sizes vary based on age, gender an activity level.  The goal is to learn how to modify your portion sizes and make them similar to the recommended serving so you can achieve a balance of nutrients at each meal.  

In other words, portion sizes are just a guide to ensure that you are getting what you need.  It is essential to be in touch with your body and know when you need to eat and when you need to stop eating.  This philosophy is called Intuitive Eating.  If you follow your body’s cues and eat when you are truly hungry and finish your meal when you achieve that sense of satisfaction, you will be able to meet your body’s personal demands for energy and nutrition.    On the contrary, eating just because the clock tells us to or we are experiencing stressful or emotional situations is what leads to overeating.  As individuals we have different needs that are affected by our activity levels, age, gender, weight goals, etc.  This is especially important in children whose needs change during periods of growth and development.   This is where individual guidance with a registered dietitian nutritionist is suggested. (You can find one in your area by going to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.  If you are in the Dallas area, come see us!)

Many times I get asked the question: “Is ___ good?” or “Will eating ___ make me gain weight?”, etc.  The truth is, it depends.  I am a true believer of moderation (I can only preach what I practice, right?)!  Will eating apples make you gain weight?  Well, if you eat too many, yes they will!  Plus, if you only eat apples you will have many nutrient deficiencies too.  Finding a balance and making sure your diet includes a variety is what is all about.  But how do you achieve variety and ensure you are getting what you need?  The answer is to eat frequently during the day.  For most, 3 meals/day is not sufficient time to get all the nutrients our bodies need.  Scheduling balanced snacks – not only 1 food group – between meals will not only help you meet those needs but also will allow you to have control over your portions at the next meal. 

You have probably heard me or someone else talk about MyPlate (hyperlink to myplate.gov).  I LOVE My Plate.  It is a great tool that can help you balance a meal, actually, balance ALL meals!  It really makes sense for everyone.  They key with using MyPlate is portion sizes for both  achieving the right nutrients and also as a guidance on portions for weight control.  If you visit ChooseMyPlate.gov you can find personalized daily servings for you and your family. 

When you are first starting to “learn” optimal portion sizes, it may be helpful to use measuring cups and/or measuring spoons to get the idea.  After you get used to the visual, you can start using common items you are familiar with to give you a reference point.  There are plenty of fun graphics that can help you make the connection.  The first thing you need to know is: What is a serving size?  Here are some general examples for an adult or older child.  The portion sizes of younger children are about ½ of an adult. 




  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables – the size of two hands cupped

  • ½ cup of other vegetables, raw or cooked – the size of ½ a baseball


  • 1 small fruit – the size of a tennis ball

  • ½ cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit – the size of a

  • ½ cup small fruit, like berries or grapes

  • ¼ cup of dried fruit – the size of a golf ball

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Beans and Nuts

  • 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry – the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards

  • 3 oz of fish – the size of a checkbook 

  • 1 egg, 2 egg whites or ¼ cup liquid egg substitute  

  • ½ cup cooked beans, lentils or peas – the size of a lightbulb

  • ¼ cup nuts – the size of handful

  • 2 tablespoons nut butter – the size of a ping-pong ball

Grains or Starchy Vegetables:

  • 1 slice of bread or 1 pancake – the size of a CD

  • 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal – the size of a fist

  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta – the size of ½ a baseball

  • 1 bagel or hamburger bun – the size of a hockey puck

  • 1 baked potato – the size of a computer mouse

Milk, Yogurt and Cheese:

  • 1 cup of fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt – the size of a baseball

  • 1.5 oz low-fat cheese – the size of 3 dice-sized cubes

  • 1/2 cup fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese – the size of an ice cream scoop


  • 1 teaspoon of butter or margarine – the size of a postage stamp

  • 1 Tablespoon of oil or salad dressing – the size of a poker chip

  • 1 teaspoon of sugar – the size of your thumb tip

Controlling your portion sizes may be easier when you are at home or under an environment you are familiar with; but don’t let changes to that routine get you off the path of eating right!  In those situations; learn to share dishes, tell yourself it is okay to not finish what is on your plate, ask for substitutions to your entrees, get part of your order to go, etc!  

With My Plate you can easily tell that ½ your meal should be fruits and vegetables.  In addition, you should include lean proteins and some whole grains.  Don’t’ forget you low-fat dairy.  The result will be a nice balanced meal!  So how does this translate into reality?  Well, let’s look at some meal examples:

Breakfast burritos

  • 1-2 whole wheat tortillas

  • 2 scrambled eggs with spinach, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms

  • ½-1 cup or fruit

  • 8 oz of skim milk

Easy lunch salad

  • 4 cups of salad greens (add any other veggies you like!)

  • 3 oz grilled chicken breast

  • 2 clementines

  • 10 whole grain crackers

  • ½ cup cottage cheese

Spaghetti night

  • 3 oz ground lean beef

  • 1 cup whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce

  • 1-2 cups salad (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli) with 2 Tbsp of salad dressing

  • 1 medium apple

  • 6 oz low-fat Greek yogurt

Use My Plate as a tool to help you plan your meals and guide your portion sizes but don’t forget to listen to what your body tells you about your hunger.  Soon, you will find that your meals have much more variety and that you have the proper nutrition to fuel your body. 


March is National Nutrition Month!  We have committed to do 14 blog posts that tackle an important topic in food and nutrition.  To see all the posts we have done including some from previous years, click on “National Nutrition Month” under blog category.




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