Guide to portion size

Match meal size to your diet

Meal sizes are on the increase but what are the right portion sizes that we should be eating? Our guide to portion size should give you the lowdown on ideal portions and how to eat sensibly.

Portions have grown over the years, so keep track on what you're eating.

Portion sizes have grown considerably in recent years in fact, one study in the US found that some foods had grown to up to five times their original size since the 1970s! Mammoth servings in restaurants, the rise of all-you-can-eat buffets, super-size fast food meals, family packs of crisps and jumbo lattes have all contributed to this phenomenon.

To add to the problem, due to lifestyle changes, many people now eat away from home, giving them less control over the amount of food on their plates research has shown that people are more likely to overeat when given large portions because it’s harder to gauge what is an acceptable amount. Larger meal portions can lead to an increase in calorie intake that, over time, can cause weight gain. This in turn can cause health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. So it’s a good move to keep an eye on portion sizes when you can.

That isn’t to say you should be eating so little that you end up going hungry it is more about listening to your body and putting down your fork when you’re full.

Ways to keep portion sizes sensible:

  • Don’t super-size fast foods aren’t recommended as part of a healthy diet, but if you do find yourself tempted to tuck into a burger, order the regular or small-sized meal. Large or extra-large meals can be value for money, but they are extremely high in fat and calories, and can contain bad fats; the trans fatty acids.
  • It’s not just foods that are available in outsized portions: fizzy drinks, milkshakes and sweet, milky coffees are too. These can be high in calories, so again, stick to regular or small sizes.
  • Try to avoid oversized foods such as giant cookies and muffins.
  • When eating out, don’t feel guilty about leaving food on your plate. Most people have grown up with the notion that they have to clear their plates at every meal. If leaving foods seems wasteful to you, ask for a child’s portion or a half-portion most restaurants are happy to oblige.
  • If you find yourself in an all-you-can-eat venue, reach for a small plate, and fill up only once.
  • When cooking at home, dish-up half the portion you would normally have; if you still feel hungry after dinner, eat the rest. You may surprise yourself though and find that you are already full, in which case you save the rest for lunch the next day. This halves the price of your meal too!
  • When preparing packaged foods, check labels for ‘number of servings’ in the pack you may be surprised to find that one pack contains more than one serving. Following suggested serving sizes can help keep portion size down.
  • Try not to eat out of big bags of snacks such as nuts or confectionery this will only tempt you to keep picking; dish out a serving in a small bowl instead.
  • Don’t worry too much about portions when eating nutritious foods such as fruit, veg, pulses and wholegrains rather, concentrate on cutting down on portions of fatty, sugary foods these contain the most calories and the least nutrients. For example, one extra-large portion of fries can contain more than 600 calories – around the same amount as 11 carrots plus 11 tablespoons of hummus! The latter would not only provide more nutrients (such as fiber and vitamin A) but also more bulk it’s doubtful that anyone could eat one portion of fries however large and feel as full as they would after eating 11 carrots!

What's the ideal portion size?

  • The meat or other protein-based part of your meal should be around the size of a deck of cards.
  • The starchy part of your meal, for example: the rice, potatoes, bread or grains should be around the size of one tennis ball or your balled fist.
  • If possible, fruits and vegetables should fill around half of your plate.
  • Fats and oils should be kept to a minimum, for example: less than one tablespoon.

Comments (6)

  • TonySmith2 ' I'd have to agree with not eating out of big bags of food. When ever I open the large bags of Kettle Chips I'm done for and just have to eat the lot. Pringles are the same.'

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  • HAN75 'Portion sizes vary where you are at the time. If you've ever been to America you soon notice the difference!'

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  • haveago 'I don't really see how portion sizes can be a universal thing and if you're someone who is more active then your portion sizes are going to need to be a lot larger. People are amazed at the size of portions I have, yet I'm not fat - must be down to my metabolism. Sadly other people's portions and the recommendations on packets saying "should feed 3 people" are just not agreeable in my book.'

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  • twammers 'Very useful tips here, especially having just got back from hols where I trained with the 'British Eat All You Can Olympic Team'! Promised not to weigh myself until year.'

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  • Ross_M 'You're right about the all-you-can-eat restaurants, they got the beating of me in uni. There was a really nice chinese one, and I got it in my head that I had to eat as much as humanly possible to get my money's worth - not clever.'

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  • Rachel_Amy 'I always feel I have to finish what's on my plate even after I'm full- probably a childhood thing'

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