We’re in the second week of the new year and many are already struggling to stay on track with fitness resolutions. The Fit & Happier Blog is here to help with the Small Steps Series. January’s assignment is to focus only on portion control. I can describe the amount of various foods that constitute a correct portion. But it’s much better understood and remembered to literally show you. (Hint: click on the photograph to increase the size.)
Cereals: Due to the combination of affordability, convenience and quick-consumption aspects, cold cereals with milk are a popular breakfast choice. But, as you will see, serving sizes, calories and other nutrition information aren’t entirely equal among brands:
These three cereals all have a suggested serving size of 3/4 cup, which is the first listing under Nutrition Facts. The calorie amounts (second line) are fairly close, ranging from 190-210 calories per serving, not counting added milk. Other important numbers to look at are grams of fiber, sugar and protein, all listed near the bottom of the Nutrition Facts but above the ingredient list. The higher the fiber and protein numbers and the lower the sugar numbers, the better the quality of the calories in that food item.
It’s important to remember that not all cereals have a serving size of 3/4 cup:
The serving size for the raisin bran is one cup while the wheat cereal servings are measured in number of squares (21). The moral of the story here is, with cereals, you need to read labels and measure out servings.
If you like hot cereal, a serving size of oatmeal is 1/2 cup uncooked or about one cup cooked. It clocks in at 150 calories, not counting any dairy or sweeteners you may wish to add.
Other breakfast items: Items like yogurt and fruit or eggs and toast are great alternatives to cereal for breakfast. Follow the suggested serving size for the yogurt. Two eggs and one slice of whole grain bread (see below) or English muffin, served with a side of fruit, is a nutritious and filling breakfast. Be careful with bagels. Most store bought bagels are over-sized. Half of one of these large bagels would constitute a proper serving size.
Lunch & Dinner
The rule is proteins and grains should each take up 1/4 of your plate and the other half should be filled with vegetables and fruit. Here, I’ve used a combination of actual foods and common household items to better understand the proper proportions for components of a balanced meal:
Proteins: The deck of cards represents the protein on the plate and, generally speaking, measures in at 4 oz. Proteins at meals tend to be meats, fish and poultry. But, the same rule would apply to dairy, legume (such as beans and tofu) and egg-based meals.
Grains & Starches: The measuring cup pictured contains brown rice. A serving of grains like rice, quinoa, barley, farro, pastas and breads measures in at about 1/2 cup. The same portion rules apply to starchy produce such as potatoes, corn and legumes.
Vegetables & Fruit: A full half of your plate should be made up of produce. Any combination of fruits and vegetables works. Though the US government recommends having a higher proportion of vegetables to fruit each day.
Dairy & Fats: The US government’s balanced meal recommendations also include a serving each of dairy and fats. Proper portions of these are discussed below.
Snacks & Extras
Snacks: As we’ve become more portion-conscious, food manufacturers have done a better job of packaging snack food into pre-portioned, sensible sizes. Read labels and choose snacks high in fiber and protein and low in added sugars and other simple carbohydrates. The following features the proper serving size for nuts (1/4 cup) and a tablespoon, two of which constitute a serving size for nut butters:
Breads: Pictured is one slice of 100% whole wheat bread.
Fats: Fats are necessary. Many of our vital nutrients need fat in order to be digested and absorbed properly. Consider the size of the above purple tablespoon for the following:
- Salad Dressings: 2 Tblsp
- Mayonnaise: 1 Tblsp
Milk: It’s recommended that 8 oz of milk accompany a meal, see photo below:
Alcoholic beverages are a tricky category. First, the serving size is different for each type of beverage. Second, even among similar types, there are varying percentages of alcohol which affect calorie total. For example, a 12 oz beer ranges from 100 calories for a light beer to over 200 calories for a stout.
Wines have similar variations. Also, red wines are traditionally served in larger goblets as compared to whites and are more likely to be over-poured. The proper portions are pictured above:
- Beer: 12 oz, 100+ calories
- White Wine & Sparkling Wine: 4 oz, 100+ calories
- Red Wine: 4 oz, 120+ calories
Hard liquor has a higher alcohol content than beer and wine. A single of hard liquor is 25 ml which translates to just under one fluid ounce and contains 60-120 calories, depending on the liquor. Mixed drinks have more calories. A single is pictured below, one neat and the other on the rocks:
The best rule of thumb is to consume desserts in the portion size in which your grandma used to make them. For example, pictured is the cupcake liner she would’ve used, which is about 1/2 cup:
It’s the proper serving size for cakes, muffins, quick breads and pies. Half cup is also the serving size for ice cream. Below is a one cup measure next to a white ramekin and a blue “ice cream” bowl. The chances of someone scooping only a half cup of ice cream into that blue bowl is practically nil. When portioning out desserts, use the smallest bowls and plates you have.
Oreos are one mass-produced cookie that’s remained a sensible size. Pictured below, you’ll notice they have a serving size of two and each is close to the size of a cookie dough scooper. Remember this portion guide with all cookies, brownies and bars. Also pictured is a one ounce square of dark chocolate.
Hope this guide helps you keep all your portions under your control.