Are You Overeating? A Guide to Serving Sizes

Portions have become supersized over the years and consumers are no longer aware of how much food they are actually shoveling into their mouths. Knowing the proper serving sizes can help stop you from packing on extra calories as well as extra pounds.

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When contemplating a suitable serving size, the quantity of food should be based on your age, gender, level of physical activity and body mass index (BMI).The US Department of Agriculture has replaced the food pyramid with a new symbol that dictates the recommended servings for each food group – the dinner plate. As its name would indicate, this is a dish-shaped icon, divided into 4 sections, and labeled with the essential food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Although the dairy group is positioned to the side of the dinner plate, it's still included within the parameters of a well-balanced diet.

So why replace the pyramid? Nutritionists maintain that the pyramid was a misrepresentation of healthy eating, as it failed to differentiate nutrient-dense foods, like whole grains and fish, from empty-calorie foods like refined cereals and pasta.

The most notable changes the USDA has made emphasize that at least half of your grains should be whole grains (oatmeal, whole cornmeal, brown rice, etc.), and that half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. The new guidelines stress adding more “color” to your dish.

Instead of vague serving size suggestions, the dinner plate proposes: 3 cups of dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt), 2-3 cups of vegetables, 1.5-2 cups of fruit, 5-6.5 ounces of protein (fish, poultry, eggs, etc.), 5-8 ounces of grains (rice, cereal, pasta), and 5-7 teaspoons of sweets, fats and oils per day. Using these daily recommendations, you can start putting together more balanced meals.

Additionally, it’s really important to understand what a correct serving size looks like. Here are some cues to help you visualize how to eat the right amount.


The Food Group: Dairy (Milk, Yogurt and Cheese), 3 cups/daily

1 cup of milk = Small carton (or 8 oz)

1.5 oz of cheese = 2 (9 volt) batteries  

½ cup of ice cream = ½ the size of a baseball

Tip: Choose fat-free or low-fat milk (1%), yogurt or cheese. Low-fat and fat-free milk products contain the same amount of calcium, protein and vitamin D as whole dairy products; however, they offer less fat, saturated fat and calories.

The Food Group: Vegetables, 2-3 cups/daily

1 medium potato = Size of a computer mouse (or 5.5 oz)

1 cup of carrots = About 12 baby carrots

1 cup of broccoli or any mixed greens = Size of a hockey puck   

The Food Group: Fruit, 1.5-2 cups/daily

1 medium apple = Size of a baseball (or 3 inches in diameter)

½ cup of strawberries = About 7 strawberries

½ cup of grapes = About 16 grapes

Tip: During your meals, half of your dish should consist of a variety of fruits and vegetables. According to the USDA’s “My Plate” model, consumers should increase their intake of fruits and vegetables in order to reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases. Rich in fiber and vitamins A, C, and E, fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants that cleanse the body, removing fatty deposits from the digestive tract.

The Food Group: Protein (Fish, Poultry, Nuts, Eggs and Legumes) 5-6.5 oz/daily

2-3 oz of chicken = Size of a deck of cards

¼ cup of almonds = About 23 almonds

2 tablespoons of peanut butter = 2 ping pong balls

Tip: Choose lean meat or poultry over processed meats (sausage, frankfurters, etc.). Lean meats have more nutritional value – they are loaded with essential nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins that build muscle and bones, boost energy, stabilize the body’s metabolism, and help the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the bloodstream.

The Food Group: Grains (Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta), 5-8 oz/daily

1 slice of bread = Size of a computer disk

1 bagel = Size of a can of tuna

½ cup of rice/pasta = Light bulb

Tip: At least half of your grains should be whole grains (versus refined grains) such as brown rice, millet, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, bran flakes cereal, etc. The fiber found in whole grains fights diseases and strengthen digestion. They also aid in lowering cholesterol, help with moving waste down the digestive tract, and prevent the formation of blood clots.


The Food Group: Sweets, Fats and Oils, 5-7 teaspoons/daily

1 teaspoon of butter = Size of a stamp

2 tablespoons salad dressing = Size of a ping pong ball

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise = Poker chip

Tip: Try to limit adding condiments to your food, but don’t neglect this group completely. Certain oils such as olive oil, almond oil and canola oil are low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fats that help lower your risk of heart disease, and normalize cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Focusing attention on how much food you add to your plate provides greater control over what you are spooning into your mouth. Become a better judge of serving sizes and have an eye for the right portions – doing so can help unlock the door to a healthier lifestyle.