Understanding Portions Versus Servings

Understanding Portions Versus Servings

The holidays are here, and with it comes the excitement of the season as well as tasty home cooking. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, it’s the perfect time to discuss the difference between portions and servings, because if you are anything like me, you overeat during the holiday celebrations.

All too often, we eat the food on the plate in front of us without thinking too much about how much food we are consuming. Some grow up being told that finishing your plate is proper manners, while others feel that leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates you have eaten your fill. 

When offered a larger portion, we almost always eat more than that we need. Overeating can come from being presented with a wide variety of foods, a place of boredom, or a place of emotional recourse. It is important that when building a healthy relationship with food that we all consider what triggers us to eat so that we can monitor our portion sizes. 

Portion Size Versus Serving Size

Portion size is defined as the amount of food that you consume at a given time, whether that be a meal or a snack. Serving size, in contrast, is used to describe the recommended amount of food that you should consume at a given time.

Portion sizes have been increasing significantly in the recent decades, which includes home-prepared meals, dine-in meals, as well as carry-out meals. Consider the latest time you ordered Chinese take-out and reflect on the amount of food they gave you.

In most instances, current portion sizes far exceed recommended serving sizes. In the United States in particular, the perception of what a serving size should be has been modified in our minds due to the increased availability of larger food portions.

Large portions that well exceed the recommended serving size are all around us, in restaurants, in fast-food, in our own prepared meals. In particular, this is apparent in the marketed meal combos and value meals, which have grown in popularity, encouraging us to eat more because of the “good deal”.

But, isn’t bigger better? Shouldn’t I want to get more for my money? Well, not necessarily. Consuming large food portions can lead to unhealthy eating habits, overeating, and weight gain. What follows this can be an array of health concerns.

Serving size matters because it can be used as a tool to ensure you are not overeating, or consuming portion sizes that are much greater than the recommended serving.

Recommended Serving Size

Again, a serving is a standard amount of food that is used as a reference of how much to eat. When you read a nutrition label, you will find at the top the recommended serving size of that food. 

Servings are also used for the recommendations by MyPlate. The MyPlate guidelines give food group recommendations by cups and ounces, but it can be hard to visualize what these amounts actually look like. 

For reference, we created these graphics that depict serving sizes with a tool that everyone has: your hand! Next time you prepare food for your family or grab a bite to eat for yourself, think about these measurements and compare what you are eating (your portion size) to what is recommended here (the serving size). 

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