Portion vs. Serving Size

Portion vs. Serving Size

The confusion about portions and serving sizes may be keeping you from reaching the weight you want to be at. I’m going to help you decipher what these words mean, and give you some tips and examples to help you learn how to better check yourself when eating.

A portion is the amount of food you decide to eat.
A serving size is the recommended amount of food you should eat.

Many people are utterly inaccurate when it comes to doling out serving sizes. The portions we serve ourselves, or that are served to us in restaurants are way more than the recommended serving size. It’s time to get it right. Paying attention to serving sizes can help you slash calories without sending you into starvation mode. There are many tips and tricks to doing this, and once you learn them, you will be so good at it, you will soon learn what a serving size is just by eyeballing it.


A serving of fruit is 1 cup. Depending on your age and activity level, you should consume between 1 ½ and 2 cups of fruit daily. Usually one small piece of fruit like an apple, banana, or orange will equal one cup. Compare it to the size of your fist. It should be about the same. If you start selecting ginormous fruits, then you are probably going to be consuming more. For smaller items like berries, you can simply measure out one cup. Measuring does take extra time, but you shouldn’t have to do it forever. Once you get used to what a cup of blueberries looks like, you should be able to eyeball it after a while, like two weeks. And then just do periodic checks to make sure you’re still on target.


A serving of vegetables is one cup, or two cups of leafy greens. You will need around 2 to 2 ½ cups of vegetables a day. Again here, you will need to measure for a while until you can estimate a serving size yourself. If you are struggling to get enough vegetables into your diet, then measuring may be more important. I don’t necessarily worry about going over the serving size here as much as I would with other food groups. Vegetables tend to be low in calories and you should fill up on them as much as possible. So serving sizes are not super important here. The best visual is to cup your hands together. Whatever fits in your hands is a serving of vegetables.


You will need between 5 and 6 ounces of grains per day, most of which should be whole grains. A serving of grains is one slice of bread, one cup of cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, or other grain. I think the grains group is where many people have portion distortion. Look at the muffins sold in bakeries, or the amount of pasta served in restaurants. No wonder we are all confused. This is one area where you really want to nail serving sizes down to what they should be. Again, use those measuring cups until you become comfortable enough to do it yourself. The size of your closed fist is going to be a good visual for you here.


You will need about 5 ounces of protein a day. A serving of protein can be one ounce of meat, poultry, or fish, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of nut butter, ½ ounce of seeds, or ¼ cup of cooked beans. This is another area where you want to try to sharpen your serving sizes. Most Americans eat more protein than they need. There is kind of this obsession right now that we all need more protein, but we don’t. The human body can only process a certain amount of protein at a time, so ingesting too much at one time just means that’s some of it isn’t even usable by the body. Spread your protein out over your meals and snacks for the day. For nuts, aim for a rounded handful, which is close to ½ cup. For meats, think about keeping them to the size of a deck of cards, which is about 3 ounces.


We need around 3 cups of dairy per day. A serving can be one cup of milk or yogurt, or 1 ½ ounces of cheese. Yogurt usually comes pre-portioned out unless you are buying a big tub of it. Cheese is probably the most dangerous culprit here. Cut the correct serving size of cheese and put the rest away, so you’re not tempted to keep nibbling. A serving of cheese should look like 6 dice.


You want to get about 5 or 6 teaspoons of healthy oils each day. This includes foods rich in oils, like avocados, nuts, and olives. Just remember these foods are higher in calories and fats, so you really need to check your serving sizes here. A teaspoon is about the size of the tip of your thumb.

Once you practice portioning out the correct serving sizes of different foods, you should become comfortable enough to do it without always having to measure. You may be surprised to find that you are satisfied eating way less food than you are now.

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