How to Figure Out Food Portions Easily

Twenty years ago a blueberry muffin was 1.5 ounces and had 140 calories. Today’s muffin has grown to a whopping 5 ounces and 500 calories, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. A 130-pound person would have to vacuum 1 ½ hours to burn the calorie difference, according to the health department.

So what is a proper portion?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set standard serving sizes, and packaged food with nutrition labels attached make it easy to figure out how much a serving is. But how do you determine what a proper portion is if there’s no label? You can do that by visualizing everyday items such as a deck of cards, pair of dice and a tennis ball to calculate portion sizes.

“For meat or poultry, a portion is 3 ounces, which is the size of a deck of cards. You’ll never find that size on a menu. Most restaurant portions are huge,” said Amber Wilson, a registered dietician with Mid-Ohio Nutrition Therapy.

A 3-ounce serving of a fish filet is the size of a checkbook, and a serving of fresh fruit is about the size of a tennis ball.

“While fruit is good for you, some are humongous and have a lot of calories. Many apples are so large that they are two servings of fruit,” Wilson said.

One carbohydrate serving is 1/2 cup of cooked rice, 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, one slice of bread or one roll. Because the size of bread can vary greatly, Wilson recommended reading the food label, if available, to see if the slice of bread is for more than one portion. The portion of cooked rice is about the size of a cupcake wrapper and cooked pasta is the size of a scoop of ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, one serving is 1/2 cup, or the size of half a tennis ball, said Melissa Kalb, a registered dietician with the Faculty and Wellness Program at Ohio State University.

One serving of cheese is about the size of four dice, and a teaspoon of margarine, peanut butter or oil is the size of one die, Kalb said.

Health experts recommend getting two to four servings of vegetables daily. One serving of raw vegetables is one cup and one serving of cooked vegetables is ½ cup.

While some people use the palm of their hand or fist as a guide for measuring a serving of meat, fish or poultry, both Kalb and Wilson said doing so could be inaccurate.

“A 6-foot-6, 250 pound man’s palm or fist is going to be much larger than that of a 5-foot, 100 pound woman,” Kalb said.

If you’re looking for a more accurate way to determine food portions, consider buying a food scale, Wilson said.

“I would definitely recommend it. It can be time consuming and a lot of work but as you continue to use it, you’ll get used to what serving sizes should look like. A food scale is the best gauge of portion sizes,” she said.

Quiz yourself on how food portions have changed over the past 20 years.

If eating healthy and local foods are important to you, consider becoming an Our Ohio Supporter. For just $25 a year, you can stay connected with Ohio food and farm stories while supporting local foods and community outreach.

Amy Graves 

Amy Graves is a communications specialist for Ohio Farm Bureau.