Healthy Portions Sizes


Did you know that in the 1980s, a typical bagel had 140 calories and a 3-inch diameter? Today, a bagel averages 6 inches and is a whopping 350 calories! With 64-ounce fountain drinks, jumbo-size snacks, massive restaurant entrées and the ability to “super-size” fast food for pennies more, it is easy to get confused about proper portion size.

What is a portion?

A portion is the amount of a specific food an individual eats for a meal or snack. Many factors affect food portions, such as age, gender, activity level, appetite, and where or when the food is obtained and eaten.

What is the difference between portions and servings?

A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat. There is no standard or correct portion size. A serving is a standard amount (issued by the USDA) used to give advice about how much to eat, and to identify how many calories and nutrients are in a particular food. This is the information located on the nutritional label of a food product (serving size).

For example:

You eat a sandwich with two slices of bread.

  • The nutrition label on the bread states that the serving size is one slice.
  • Your portion is two slices, which equals two servings.

Healthy Portion Sizes

For a general idea of the amount of food you should be consuming, use the following recommendations:

  • A serving of meat is about 2 or 3 ounces—about the size of the palm of your hand.
  • One serving of grains is equal to one slice of bread, one ounce of cereal, or half a cup of pasta or rice.
  • A serving of fruit or vegetables is equal to one piece of fresh fruit or vegetable, half a cup of chopped, or ¾ cup of either juice. In general, it is not as necessary to be vigilant about vegetable and fruit intake, as any amount is healthy—just be aware of the sugar content in fruit.
  • The USDA recommends you make at least half your plate fruits and vegetables, along with lean protein and whole grains.

Break Down Your Meal

It might be easier to figure out how much you are consuming if consider what you are about to eat.

For example, here is how you would break down a spaghetti dinner:

  • Spaghetti Noodles –
    • Your portion: 2 cups
    • Serving size: ½ cup
    • Number of pasta servings: 4

When taking into account other meals, snacks, and beverages consumed throughout the day, it is easy to see why so many Americans overeat.

Try to keep your daily intake within the general guidelines set by the USDA. Your portions do not have to match the standard serving size—they can be smaller or larger. However, the amount you eat throughout the day should match the total amount of food that is recommended.


The USDA created MyPlate to replace the traditional food pyramid, to make it easier for Americans to make healthy food choices. If you find it difficult to adhere to the recommended daily servings, try focusing on these MyPlate guidelines instead:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Go lean with protein.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat dairy.
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