Portion Control

Recommended Daily Servings

The United States Department of Agriculture's guidelines on daily food group servings are based on your calories needs for the day. For example, the recommended servings for 1400 to 2000 calories a day are:

Daily Amount of Food From Each Group
Calorie Level 1,400 1,600 1,800 2,000
Fruits 1.5 cups 1.5 cups 1.5 cups 2 cups
Vegetables 1.5 cups 2 cups 2.5 cups 2.5 cups
Grains 5 oz eq* 5 oz eq 6 oz eq 6 oz eq
Meat and Beans 4 oz eq 5 oz eq 5 oz eq 5.5 oz eq
Milk 2 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups
Oils 4 tsp 5 tsp 5 tsp 6 tsp
171 132 195 267

* eq = equivalents

The food group recommendations are found at mypyramid.gov.

  • The Fruit Group includes all fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits and fruit juices.
    • What counts as a serving? In general, 1 cup fruit or 100% fruit juice; 1/2 cup dried fruit; 1 small apple; 1 medium pear; 1 large banana, orange, peach; 8 strawberries, 32 grapes
  • The Vegetable Group includes all fresh, frozen, canned, and dried vegetables and vegetable juices.
    • What counts as a serving? In general, 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice; 2 cups raw leafy greens; 1 medium baked potato.
  • The Grains Group includes all foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, such as bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas and grits.
    • What counts as a serving? In general, 1 slice bread; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal; 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal; 3 cups hot-air popped popcorn; 1/2 English muffin; 5 whole wheat crackers; 1 six-inch tortilla. At least half of all grains consumed should be whole grains.
  • The Meat & Beans Group includes lean meat, poultry, fish, egg, dry beans, nuts and seeds.
    • What counts as a serving? In general, 1 ounce lean meat, poultry, fish; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; 1/4 cup cooked dry beans; 1/4 cup tofu; 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds.
  • The Milk Group includes all fluid milk products or milk-containing foods that retain their calcium content, such as yogurt and cheese. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not part of the Milk Group.
    • What counts as a serving? In general, 1 cup milk or yogurt; 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese; 2 ounces processed cheese; 2 cups cottage cheese. Choose fat-free or low-fat foods to cut down on calories and fat.
  • The Oils Group include fats from plants that are liquid at room temperature, such as canola, corn, olive, soybean, and sunflower oil, and foods that are mainly oil, such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, and soft margarine (choose trans-fat free margarine).
    • What counts as a serving? In general, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, margarine; 2 tablespoons salad dressing; 4 olives.

Discretionary Calories are the "extra" calories that come from solid fat, added sugar, and alcohol. You can use your discretionary calorie allowance on higher calorie forms of foods that contain fat or added sugar, such as whole milk, full-fat cheese, sausage, full-fat salad dressing, sweetened yogurt and sweetened bakery products, or on candy, soda, wine and beer.

For a quick guide on the number of discretionary calories in common foods, see the chart at http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/discretionary_calories_count.html

Guide to Estimating Portions

While weighing or measuring food is the most accurate way to determine portion size, having a good sense of what a single serving looks like is usually all that is needed. Here are some easy ways to size up your servings:

Estimating one serving from the Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta Group:

  • 1 medium piece of fruit is about the size of a tennis ball.
  • 1 cup cooked vegetables is about the size of a baseball or a woman's fist.
  • 1 medium potato is about the size of a computer mouse.
  • ½ cup cooked pasta is about the size of an ice cream scoop.
  • 1 cup (1 ounce) cereal is about the size of a rolled up pair of thick socks.
  • 1 ½ ounces cheese is about the size of your pointer finger.
  • 3 ounces cooked meat, poultry or fish is about the size of a woman's palm or a deck of cards.
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter is about the size of half a walnut with shell.
  • 1 teaspoon of margarine or butter is about the size of the tip of your thumb, from the top of the thumb to the first joint.

Portion Control In and Out of the Home

In the home:

  • During meals, put one serving of food on your plate at the kitchen counter, instead of serving family-style. Immediately freeze or refrigerate the extras.
  • Cook smaller amounts if you don't like leftovers.
  • If you like crunchy snacks, put dry cereal, popcorn, or a small handful of nuts in a sandwich bag, so it's ready to go. Limit yourself to this amount, rather than eating out of a large box, bag or jar.
  • Eat at regular times so you don't get overly hungry.

Eating out:

  • Use the guide to estimating portion sizes listed above. Decide how much you're going to eat and have the rest placed in a doggie bag for another day's meal.
  • Fill up on a broth-based soup or salad or have a low-calorie beverage before the main course arrives.
  • Take one serving of bread, if desired, then move the bread basket and butter dish away from you, or have them removed from the table.
  • Order fruit for dessert. If occasionally, you want something for dessert other than fruit, share your dessert with a meal companion, and enjoy!

Buffet Blasters

One of the most difficult places to control portion sizes is at the buffet table. Here are some tips:

  • Cover half of your plate with leafy greens, and use the rule of thumb (your thumb is about the size of a tablespoon) for the salad dressing. Now take a look at the other half of your plate. On half of it, put one serving from the Grains Group and on the other half put a serving from the Meat & Beans Group.
  • Choose fruit for dessert.
  • Visit the buffet table only once.
  • Sit away from the buffet table.

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