Portion size


It can be hard to measure out every portion of food you eat. Yet there are some simple ways to know that you are eating the right serving sizes.

A recommended serving size is the amount of each food that you are supposed to eat during a meal or snack. A portion is the amount of food that you actually eat. If you eat more or less than the recommended serving size, you will get either too much or too little of the nutrients you need.

People with diabetes who use the exchange list for carb counting, should keep in mind that a "serving" on the exchange list will not always be the same as the recommended serving size.

For foods like cereal and pasta, it may be helpful to use measuring cups to measure out an exact serving for a couple of days until you get more practiced at eyeballing the appropriate portion.

Use your hand and other everyday objects to measure portion sizes:

  • One serving of meat or poultry is the palm of your hand or a deck of cards
  • One 3-ounce serving of fish is a checkbook
  • One-half cup of ice cream is a tennis ball
  • One serving of cheese is six dice
  • One-half cup of cooked rice, pasta, or snacks such as chips or pretzels is a rounded handful, or a tennis ball
  • One serving of a pancake or waffle is a compact disc
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter is a ping-pong ball

You should eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day to help reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and high in fiber. They will also help you fill up so that you eat less of high-fat foods. They do contain calories so you should not eat an unlimited amount, especially of fruits.

How to measure out the correct serving sizes of fruits and vegetables:

  • 1 cup of chopped raw fruits or vegetables is a woman's fist or a baseball
  • One medium apple or orange is a tennis ball
  • One-quarter cup of dried fruit or nuts is a golf ball or small handful
  • 1 cup of lettuce is four leaves (Romaine lettuce)
  • One medium baked potato is a computer mouse

To control your portion sizes when you are eating at home, try the following tips:

  • DO NOT eat from the bag. You could be tempted to eat too much. Use the serving size on the package to portion out the snack into small bags or bowls. You can also buy single-serving portions of your favorite snack foods. If you buy in bulk, you can divide snacks up into single-serving portions when you get home from the store.
  • Serve food on smaller plates. Eat from a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. Keep serving dishes on the kitchen counter so you will have to get up for seconds. Putting your food out of easy reach and out of sight will make it harder for you to overeat.
  • Half of your plate should contain green vegetables. Divide the other half between lean protein and whole grains. Filling half of your plate with green vegetables before you serve the rest of your entrée is one of the easiest methods of portion control.
  • Substitute lower-fat varieties of food. Instead of whole-fat cream cheese, sour cream, and milk, buy low-fat or skim instead. Use half the amount you would normally use of to save even more calories. You can try replacing half of the cream cheese with hummus or mix the sour cream with plain yogurt to make this easier
  • DO NOT eat mindlessly. When you snack in front of the television or while doing other activities, you will be distracted enough that you may eat too much. Eat at the table. Focus your attention on your food so you will know when you have had enough to eat.
  • Snack between meals. If you are hungry between meals, eat a healthy, high-fiber snack such as a piece of fruit, small salad, or bowl of broth-based soup. The snack will fill you up so that you do not eat too much at your next meal. Snacks that pair protein and carbohydrates with fiber will leave you more satisfied. Some examples are having an apple with string cheese, whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter, or baby carrots with hummus.

To control your portion sizes when eating out, try these tips:

  • Order the small size. Instead of a medium or large, ask for the smallest size. By eating a small hamburger instead of a large, you will save about 150 calories. A small order of fries will save you about 300 calories, and a small soda will save 150 calories. Never super-size your order.
  • Order the "lunch size" of a food, rather than the dinner size.
  • Order appetizers rather than entrees.
  • Share your meal. Split an entree with a friend, or cut your meal in half when it arrives. Put one half in a to-go box before you start eating. You can have the rest of your meal for lunch the next day.
  • Fill up with lower calorie foods. Order a small salad, fruit cup, or cup of broth-based soup before your entree. It will fill you up so that you eat less of your meal.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at: health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed January 15, 2016.

Review date:
December 07, 2016
Reviewed by:
Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 01/18/2016.
Copyright Information A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2008 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.