These days, eating out—at least some of the time—is normal. And whether they come from a restaurant, takeout or vending machine, the portions we’re being served are often larger than life. A simple test: look at the nutrition label on some of your favorite packaged foods. Is the serving size listed there realistic, or are there actually 2.5 servings listed for that one snack-sized bag of potato chips? And consider this: the giant bagel from the shop on the corner can weigh in at 5 ounces—that’s like eating the equivalent of 5 slices of bread! And we’ve gotten so used to seeing these oversized helpings that we think they’re normal—and that anything else looks skimpy. So we pile our plates higher at home too. Part of learning how to eat better is to retrain your brain to recognize—and embrace—more realistic portion sizes. Here are some tried-and-true techniques to keep your eating in check.
Use smaller serving pieces. A 7-inch plate, about the size of a "salad" plate or children’s-size plate, is ideal for your main meal. Choose a 1-cup dessert or cereal bowl instead of a soup bowl, a 6-ounce wine glass rather than a goblet.
Train your eye. In your own kitchen, have a little session in which you measure out an accurate portion of the foods you eat regularly—say, cereal, soup, pasta, pretzels—into one type of bowl, to create visual memory of how they look and just how they fill the bowl. Use that bowl every time you eat that food. (Extra credit: Use a permanent marker to write the amount of food the bowl holds on the bottom of the bowl. Then you’ll always know what you’re getting.)
Ask for an extra salad plate. In a restaurant, get a smaller side plate or hold on to the bread plate, if it’s large enough, and transfer the proper-size portions of your food onto it when you’re served your entree. Ask the waiter to take away and wrap up the rest.
Buy single-serving packages. Do this for all tempting foods—snack-size cookie or chip bags, pudding cups, fun-size candy bars. Or divide a larger package into single portions and put them in individual small plastic bags.
Read labels. Make sure you’re eating a single portion of packaged foods. If your bag of pretzels has 2 servings, take out half and put the rest away for tomorrow’s snack.
Cook foods in pre-portioned sizes. Divide casseroles into ramekins, bake mini cupcakes rather than cakes and make meatloaf in muffin cups to keep an eye on portions before you’re tempted by the entire spread.
Measure with your eyes. Use the list below to help you visualize the correct portion sizes of the foods you eat most often. Make an effort to measure out portions you serve yourself and you’ll soon be able to "eyeball" them accurately.
1 teaspoon = About the size of your fingertip
1 tablespoon = About the size of your thumb tip
1 cup (e.g., cereal, rice) = About the size of a small fist
1 ounce nuts (or other snack food) = Fits into the cupped palm of a small hand
1 single-serving bagel = A hockey puck
1 ounce cheese = About the size of 1 domino
3 ounces meat = About the size of a deck of cards
1 medium potato = About the size of a computer mouse