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Healthy Eating

Right-Size Your Portions

Hannah I. Miller, Project Coordinator — Health and Nutrition

December 2012; reviewed March, 2014 by Connie E. Burns, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition.

Who decides how much you will eat? You do! Here are some tips to right-size your portions.

Digging Deeper into Portion Control

What is a portion?

A portion is the amount of food that you decide to eat. There is no one right or wrong portion size. However, portion sizes have gotten bigger over the years, in restaurants, grocery stores, and even our homes.

popcorn comparison

Why do portion sizes matter? The bigger a portion is, the more we eat of it and the more calories it has. Eating portions that are too big can lead to feeling “stuffed” and eventually, weight gain.

What Is a Standard Serving Size?

Get familiar with standard serving sizes. A serving is a standard amount of food, measured in cups, grams, ounces, and other units. The nutrition facts panel can tell you a food's serving size, calorie value, and nutrient content.

No Measuring Cups? No Problem!

Once you know what a serving size is, it's important to know what a single serving looks like. You can measure servings using everyday objects or your hands:

Size of one serving Looks like...
  1 c. raw vegetables or fruits Baseball or fist
  1 medium piece of fruit Small computer mouse or rounded handful
  ½ c. pasta or rice Small computer mouse or rounded handful
  ½ c. ice cream Tennis ball or rounded handful
  3 oz. meat or poultry Deck of cards or palm
  1 oz. chips or pretzels Baseball or two handfuls
  1 c. dried cereal Baseball or two handfuls
  ¼ c. dried fruit or nuts Large egg or handful
  2 tbsp. peanut butter or salad dressing Ping pong ball or thumb
  1 oz. cheese Ping pong ball or thumb
  1 tsp butter, oil, or sugar One die or thumb tip


Right-Size Your Portions Today!

Pick one of the goals below and give it a try at your next meal or snack:

These small steps will help curb calories and keep your weight on the right track.

Other Recommended Resources

The Nutrition Facts Panel Online Course: A Guide to Wise Food Choices — Short, free online course on how to read and utilize nutrition facts labels. Are you in the MFIP/TANF program? This course counts as one hour of a Core TANF activity for Life Skills Training.

Serving Size for Whole Grain Products (161 K PDF) — Examples of serving sizes for different whole grain foods.

Portion Distortion!National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute — An interactive quiz on how today’s portions compare to portions 20 years ago.

The Secret to Serving Sizes is in Your HandeXtension — A guide to using your hand to estimate serving sizes.

Eat Smart Move More North Carolina — Two helpful handouts on right-sizing portions:

Calories Count — Learn to navigate between nutrient-rich and calorie-rich foods.

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