One of the best ways to move toward healthier eating habits is to take a good look at portion sizes. It’s easy to get thrown off by “portion distortion” which can cause all kinds of challenges when you’re trying to eat smarter. But how do you know if you’re on target? Investing in a small kitchen scale is the most accurate way of minimizing portion distortion, but here are some visual clues you can use to “eyeball” what a serving size of different foods might look like:
- 1 teaspoon = tip of your thumb
- 1 tablespoon = 1/2 ping pong ball
- 1/2 cup = 1/2 baseball or rounded handful
- 1 cup = about the size of a closed fist or baseball
- 1 to 2 ounces of nuts or snack food = one handful
- 1 ounce of cheese = size of your thumb or four dice
- 3 ounces of meat = a deck of cards, a cassette tape or the palm of your hand
- 1 medium piece of fruit = tennis ball or your fist
- 2-inch slice of melon = width of three fingers
- 3-ounce bagel = hockey puck
Using a Food Scale
One of the best ways to minimize portion distortion is to measure or weigh the foods you regularly eat to get an idea of what a serving size actually looks like. It’s also a good idea to measure your foods every once in a while as a spot check—it’s easy for amounts to creep up over time without you noticing.
Here are the USDA daily recommendations for some common foods and food groups:
- Five to eight ounce equivalents of grains (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, etc.) with at least 1/2 of the daily requirement coming from whole grains. One slice of bread, 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal, 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta are considered a one ounce equivalent.
- Two to three cups vegetables or 100% vegetable juice. Vegetables may be raw or cooked, frozen, canned, or dried. Whole vegetables are usually preferred over juice because of the added fiber benefits.
- About two cups fruit or 100% fruit juice. Fruits may be fresh, frozen, or dried. If eating dried fruit, you only need about 1/2 the amount as fresh to be considered a serving. Again, whole fruits will provide fiber that juices will not.
- Three cups milk or milk products (cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.). Fat-free or low-fat products and reduced-fat cheeses are recommended over full fat ones.
- Five to six and a half ounce equivalents of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and peas or beans(which are also considered a part of the vegetable group). Always choose lean or low-fat meats and poultry, and unsalted nuts(to help control sodium intake).
- Five to seven teaspoons of oils. It’s very likely that you’ll reach your daily allowance just by eating a balanced diet that includes fish, nuts and salad dressings.