portion sizes

Portion Control - Real Serving Sizes

Portion CONTROL. 

Mindless eating is one of the top reasons we struggle with the magnitude of the obesity epidemic we face in our country today. The expansion of our middles in the last few decades directly reflects the increase in the size of our plates and portions. It’s time to rein it in.

We now know that for many of us, habitual over eating is actually a “food addiction.” It is real, comparable in nature to any other substance abuse. The problem is that we need food to survive and the avoidance or weaning tactics used to deal with other types of substance abuse is not realistic in this case as a recovery method. This means, then, that to win the battle around food and its priority and purpose in our lives, it has to be fought in our minds and hearts. 

It has to be battled hand in hand with surrender to God and His better way, and the invitation by Him to renew our minds completely around our relationship with food.

If you struggle with over eating or controlling portions, remember that there is no need for shame, guilt, or other negative feelings directed toward yourself because of this struggle. 


Just like all the other issues we each face in our behaviors and habits, this particular one is another opportunity to re-evaluate where you currently stand. Ask God to take any feelings you may have of your own inadequacy, and replace them with the knowledge of His ability. Remember who you are to Him, you are His marvelous reflection! He wants you to be healthy and whole.

Now let’s move on to the “how” of cutting our portion sizes down and learning what a serving size really looks like!

We hear a lot about this topic in the health arena – but do we translate the information out there into how much we eat every day? 

Despite the vast amount of knowledge available to us on portion sizes and types, many of us are not following these very simple instructions in our diets. By applying this one change to our family nutritional habits, we would see a quick and noticeable difference in our weight and health! 

Here is some valuable information to help you decipher how much food you should (or shouldn’t) be eating every day.

According to the USDA, here is a general idea of what ONE portion is in each food group:

Breads, pasta, cereal, cooked grains

  • 1 slice of bread (looks like a CD case)

  • 1/2 a bagel (the size of a hockey puck)

  • 1 cup cereal (looks like two hands cupped together)

  • 1/2 cup cooked grain or pasta (one cupped palm)


  • 1 piece of fresh fruit (the size of a tennis ball)

  • 1/2 cup cut up fruit, raw, cooked, frozen, or canned (looks like 7 cotton balls)

  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (1/2 cupped handful)

  • 3/4 cup 100% fruit juice (5 ounces or so)


  • 1/2 cup cut up veggie, raw, cooked, frozen, or canned (looks like the bulb part of a light bulb)

  • 1/2 cup cooked, canned or frozen legumes

  • 1 cup leafy greens (2 handfuls)

  • 3/4 cup 100% vegetable juice (5 ounces or so)

Meat, chicken, or fish

  • 3-4 ounces (looks like a deck of cards or a checkbook)

  • 1 egg


  • 1 oz of cheese (looks like 2, 9-volt batteries)

  • 1/2 cup ice cream, cottage cheese or pudding (one rounded scoop)

  • 1 cup milk or yogurt


  • 1/3 cup (a small handful)

  • 1 tbsp nut butter (size of both your thumbs)

For a chart of serving sizes, click here!

Another important thing to establish is what is a portion size versus a serving size? 

The difference between the two can be so confusing! Being unclear on this is one of the reasons many of us end up eating much more than we should – we haven’t mastered really knowing “how much is too much!”

Let’s see if we can clear this up:

A portion is the amount of food you put on your plate. 

A serving is a specific amount of food defined by common measurements

For instance, a pancake “serving” is 4 inches, but a typical portion you might eat is 6 inches — or almost 1 ½ servings.  In liquid measurements, a serving is 8 ounces. Often, though, we pour double that amount, and don’t even think twice about it.

One way to combat unknowingly eating or drinking too much at one time, is to use visual cues for portion sizes – for example, a serving of fruit is the size of a baseball, one serving of cheese is the size of four dice, a computer mouse represents a serving of pasta, a deck of cards is the size of one serving of poultry or fish, and a hockey puck represents one serving of whole grains like rice.

Something else to watch for is plate size - plates used to be about 6-8 inches in width, encouraging the perfect amount of food portions per plate.  Nowadays though, “dinner” plates are more like 10-12 inches around, and encourage mindless amounts of food for our meals without us even realizing it!

A good idea is to put those larger dinner plates away, and pull out the salad or lunch plates. This visual cue will go far in halting overeating.

These simple strategies combined with the application of God’s Word in renewing your mind around portion control will bring powerful freedom and change in this area in your life - if you are interested in tackling this topic and more around the way you eat, grab a copy of our FRESH Start Workbook - we cover this in great detail with helpful aids in that book!