1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Control Food Portions to Maintain Healthy Weight


Updated April 05, 2013

Have you noticed that the size of muffins, candy bars, and soft drinks has grown over the years? How about portions of restaurant foods like pasta dishes, steaks, and french fries? As food portion sizes grow, people tend to eat more than they need to stay healthy. Managing weight involves more than just choosing a healthy variety of foods. It also calls for recognizing and controlling how much and how often you eat. These tips show you how to use serving sizes to help you eat just enough for you.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

  1. Larger Food Portions Have More Calories

    Lack of exercise and/or eating more calories than you need may lead to weight gain. Too much weight can put you at risk for:

    Managing your weight calls for more than just choosing a healthful variety of foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and low-fat meat, poultry, and dairy products. It also calls for looking at how much and how often you eat.

  2. What's The Difference Between Portions And Servings?

    A "portion" is how much food you choose to eat, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or in your own kitchen. A "serving" is a standard amount set by the U.S. Government, or sometimes by others for recipes, cookbooks, or diet plans. There are two commonly used standards for serving sizes:

  3. What Is The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid?

    The USDA Food Guide Pyramid is a healthy eating plan for people ages 2 and over. It shows the recommended number of servings to eat from each of five food groups every day to meet your nutrition needs, and it defines serving sizes. The plan can help you choose the foods and amounts that are right for you. My Pyramid Tracker is an online dietary and physical activity assessment tool that provides information on your diet quality, physical activity status, and links to nutrient and physical activity information.

  4. What Is The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts Label?

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts Label is printed on most packaged foods. It tells you how many calories and how much fat, carbohydrate, sodium, and other nutrients are in one serving of the food. The serving size is based on the amount of food people say they usually eat in one sitting. This size is often different than the serving sizes in the Food Guide Pyramid.

  5. How Do I Know How Big My Portions Are?

    The portion size that you are used to eating may be equal to two or more standard servings.

    To see how many servings a package contains, check "servings per container" listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Small containers often have more than one serving. For example: A label for cookies may show serving size as two cookies, but if you eat four, you are eating twice the servings and double the calories, fat, and other nutrients in a standard serving.
  6. Recognizing Standard Servings

    Learning to recognize standard serving sizes can help you judge how much you are eating. When cooking for yourself, use measuring cups and spoons to measure your usual food portions and compare them to standard serving sizes from Nutrition Facts labels for a week or so. Put the measured food on a plate before you start eating. This will help you see what one standard serving of a food looks like compared to how much you normally eat.

  7. What About Foods Without A Nutrition Facts Label?

    For foods that don't have a Nutrition Facts label, such as ground beef, use a kitchen scale to measure the food in ounces (according to the Food Guide Pyramid, one serving of meat, chicken, turkey, or fish is 2 to 3 ounces).

    Note: You do not need to measure and count everything you eat for the rest of your life - just long enough to recognize standard serving sizes.

  8. Try These Other Ideas To Help You Control Portions At Home:

    • Take a standard serving out of the package and eat it off a plate instead of eating straight out of a box or bag.
    • Avoid eating in front of the TV or while busy with other activities.
    • Eat breakfast every day.
    • Pay attention to what you are eating and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your foods.
    • Eat slowly so your brain can get the message that your stomach is full.
    • Take seconds of vegetables or salads instead of meats or desserts.
    • Try to eat three sensible meals at regular times throughout the day.
    • Skipping meals may lead you to eat larger portions at your next meal.
    • When cooking in large batches, freeze food in single-meal-sized containers that you will not serve right away. This way, you won't be tempted to finish eating the whole batch before the food goes bad. And you'll have ready-made food for another day.
    • Keep snacking to a minimum.
    • When you do have a "treat", eat only one serving, eat it slowly, and enjoy it!
  9. How Can I Control Portions When Eating Out?

    Research shows that the more often a person eats out, the more body fat he or she has. Try to prepare more meals at home. Eat out and get take-out foods less often. When you do eat away from home, try these tips to help you control portions:

    • Share your meal, order a half-portion, or order an appetizer as a main meal.
    • Stop eating when you begin to feel full. Focus on enjoying the setting and your friends or family for the rest of the meal.
    • Take half or more of your meal home. You can even ask for your half-meal to be boxed up before you begin eating so you will not be tempted to eat more than you need.
    • Avoid large beverages, such as "supersize" soft drinks. They have a large number of calories. Order the small size, choose a calorie-free beverage, or drink water with a slice of lemon.
    • If you stop at a fast food restaurant, choose one that serves salads, or order the small burger with lettuce and tomato.
    • Have water or nonfat milk with your meal instead of a soft drink. If you want french fries, order the small size.
    • When traveling, bring along nutritious foods that will not spoil such as fresh fruit, small cans of fruit, peanut butter and jelly (spread both thin) sandwiches, whole grain crackers, carrot sticks, air-popped popcorn, and bottled water.
  10. Comparing Food Portions: Today Versus Twenty Years Ago

    The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has these interactive quizzes to help you compare food portions. To see if you know how today's portions compare to the portions available 20 years ago, quiz yourself, and also learn about the amount of physical activity required to burn off the extra calories provided by today's portions.

  11. SuperSize It

    Have you noticed that it only costs a few cents more to get a larger size of fries or drinks? Getting a larger portion of food for just a little extra money may seem like a good value, but you end up with more food and calories than you need.

    Before you buy your next value combo, be sure you are making the best choice for your health and your wallet. If you are with someone else, share the large-size meal. If you are eating alone, skip the special deal and just order what you need.

  12. Food Diary

    Another way to track portions is to use a food diary. Writing down when, what, how much, where, and why you eat can help you be aware of the amount of food you are eating and the times you tend to eat too much. Through your diary, you can become aware of the times and reasons you eat too much, and try to make different choices in the future.

    If you tend to eat when you are not hungry, try doing something else, like taking a break to walk or call a friend, instead of eating.


  1. Remember...The amount of calories you eat affects your weight and health. In addition to selecting a healthful variety of foods, look at the size of the portions you eat. Choosing nutritious foods and keeping portion sizes sensible may help you reach and stay at a healthy weight.


    NIH Publication No. 03-5287, Just Enough For You: About Food Portions

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.