Do you ever look at old cookbooks? I have a Betty Crocker cookbook that I’ve had for over 30 years, and I still use it fairly often. Each recipe includes a little tag at the end that says, “____ Servings. When I look at those serving sizes it’s easy to see just how out of control our portion sizes have become.
When you go to a restaurant now, at least here in the U.S., the portions are huge. Most of the time, there’s enough food for at least two meals.
With all this super-sized food coming at us, how are we supposed to control how much we eat? Many of us grew up with the admonishment to “clean your plate” or “if you don’t finish your dinner, you don’t get any dessert” and no matter how much food comes out on that plate, we’re going to eat it.
Of course, it’s easier to control portion sizes when we cook and eat at home, but sometimes knowing how much of different types of food we should eat can be difficult. We want to eat reasonable servings and get enough of the right foods to nourish our bodies, but do we have to weigh or measure everything?
Many of you may be familiar with the old, “protein serving is about the size of a deck of cards, carb serving is the size of a baseball,” etc.. This is an easy way to remember serving sizes, but I’d like to share another way to estimate portion sizes that may be even easier.
It uses a tool you always have with you, no matter where you’re eating — your hand.
How It Works:
You use different parts of your hand to determine portion sizes for proteins (meat, fish, poultry, beans and legumes, etc.), vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, and fat.
should be about the
size of your palm.
should be about the size of
Your cupped hand
determines your starchy
Your thumb represents
your fat portions.
Why This System Works So Well:
- First of all, as we already talked about, your hands go everywhere with you, and you don’t have to try to remember how big they are. All you have to do is look at them.
- The size of our hands is commensurate with our body size. People who are larger have bigger hands, which is great, because they need larger portion sizes to fuel their bodies. Take a look at the difference in my hand and my hubby’s – you can see how much bigger his protein portion size would be than mine:
- Using your hands to determine your different portion sizes can help ensure you get the correct amounts of nutrient-dense foods. If you’re eating those whole, minimally-processed foods in appropriate portion sizes, you can meet your body’s requirements without having to weigh and/or measure everything.
These portion guidelines are for one portion. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should only eat one portion at each meal. It just gives you a visual to help you know how much you’re eating. Individual needs will determine how many portions of each food we should eat. These individual needs can vary a lot, depending on a person’s size, activity level, medical conditions, etc.
According to Berardi, et. al. (see Resource below), a good starting point for most active people who eat about four meals per day:
“Men might begin by eating: 2 palms of protein-dense foods, 2 fists of vegetables, 2 cupped handfuls of carb-dense foods, and 2 thumbs of fat-dense foods. And for each meal, women might begin by eating 1 palm of protein-dense foods, 1 fist of vegetables, 1 cupped handful of carb-dense foods, and 1 thumb of fat-dense foods.”
This does not mean that men need twice as much food as women or that women need half as much as men – this is just a starting point. As we discussed above, each individual is different and each person’s needs will differ. These are just estimates. If you have questions about how calories, portions, etc., you should be eating, you can check out https://www.choosemyplate.gov/resources/MyPlatePlan or consult with a Registered Dietician.
Having an easy way to keep an eye on our portion sizes can help us ensure we get the nutrition our bodies need and keep us from overeating without having to be obsessed with every ounce of food we put in our mouths. When we don’t have to work so hard at it, we can be more consistent with eating well.
Do you find it easy to keep portion sizes reasonable? What are some of your tips and tricks to make sure you’re eating enough/not overeating? Please share!
The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Third Edition, Certification Manual, 2019, John Berardi, PhD, CSCS; Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, RD; Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS; Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD; Helen Kollias, PhD, CSCS; Camille DePutter; Precision Nutrition, www.precisionnutrition.com