What is a portion size? What is a serving size?

With the holidays and parties just around the corner, I've been getting several questions from our meal plan users about portion size and portion control -- what is a serving size? What is a portion size?


Prepackaged foods (those that come in a container or box) generally have a serving size listed along with nutritional information (and sometimes the serving size is surprisingly small!), but what about foods that don't come in packages? Foods from the produce stand or bulk bin?

One thing I love about eating a low fat, whole foods, plant-based diet is that I can generally eat as much as I want because healthy foods tend to fill me up before I can go overboard with calories (for more information, see our caloric density post).

Still, I think it's helpful to know what a portion is. Knowing portion sizes can help ensure that I'm being smart about my choices (I'm not deceived by their size) *and* that I'm getting enough vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. when I'm surveying a buffet at a party.

Here are some general "serving sizes" to keep in mind when building a plate of food. (We're using everyday household items like lightbulbs and pencils to help you identify a size).

1 serving = object's size

BASEBALL: 1 cup broccoli 1 cup baby carrots 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables 1 cup raw greens 1 apple 1 cup whole grain cereal 1 cup whole-wheat or GF pasta 1 cup popcorn 1/2 cup grapes 1 cup strawberries 1 cup pudding 1 cup soup or chili 1 cup fries 1 cup noodles/spaghetti 1 cup pasta dish

LIGHTBULB: 1/2 cup mashed potatoes 1/2 cup brown rice 1/2 cup whole-wheat couscous 1/2 cup blueberries 1/2 cup ice cream, sorbet, frozen yogurt

PENCIL (length)" 1 Corn 1 Banana

DENTAL FLOSS: 2x2" square brownie 1oz dark chocolate

HOCKEY PUCK: 1 biscuit 1 muffin 1 cinnamon bun 1 cookie

DECK OF CARDS: 1 slice cake 1 sandwich (i.e. boca burger) 1 all-veggie sandwich (2 decks)

POKER CHIP: 1 tbsp oil 1 tbsp full-fat dressing 1 tbsp margarine or butter 1 tbsp mayo 1 tbsp olives

OTHER ITEMS: 1 oz (or 1/4 cup) dried fruit = golf ball 1 sweet potato = computer mouse 1 bagel = can of tuna burrito or sub = checkbook slice pizza = 2 dollar bills 1 slice of bread = cassette tape peanut butter = pingpong ball pancake = CD

Try our family and individual meal plans -- all the work is done for you! Get the current meal plan now.

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