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How to Downsize Your Dinner and Maybe Even Your Waistline

3 size plates with smaller quantities of food in each one
One way to serve your meal without measuring might be to use a smaller size plate.


We have an obesity problem in the United States; some professionals would even say that it is at epidemic proportions. For many Americans we are simply eating too much, maybe even unintentionally. When I say unintentionally, it is because unless you are paying attention to serving sizes, you may not have noticed that portions of food we're served have grown larger and larger over the years.

If you eat out, visit vending machines, or even shop at the grocery store, you are aware there is a trend towards food items that feed more than one person. No doubt you have seen the grab bag size chips, or the bagel that now has two servings.

I’m going to date myself, but I remember when I was lucky enough to eat at a restaurant or fast food establishment as a kid; the portion size was much smaller than today. You might order a burger, fries and soft drink. There was not an option to super-size and the serving sizes were likely to be a 4-ounce hamburger, 3-ounce serving of French fries, and a 10-ounce soda in a small paper cup. Today you have on the menu 8-ounce double patties ranging from 700 to 1400 calories.  Fries range from 5 ounces and up, and soft drinks start at 12 ounces but can go to 32-ounces

Unfortunately, this trend is not only in restaurants, but can be seen in grocery stores, vending machines and restaurants other than fast food. Think about the vending machine. The soft drinks are usually 20 ounces, a single bag of chips contains more than one serving, and candy bars are King size.

At restaurants you likely find the same. Consider that steak you ordered. Three-ounce serving is considered a serving and we only need 6 ounces for the day as part of a healthy diet. However, it’s unlikely you are going to order a 3-ounce steak. Even a 6-ounce steaks looks wimpy on the serving plate brought out.

Think about pasta being ordered. That bowl of pasta served has one- and one-half cups and gives a woman all the grains she needs for the day. Add in a couple of pieces of bread and you are now where the men need to be in grain intake, and you haven’t even varied the grains by making half of your daily servings whole grain.

Research shows that people unintentionally consume more calories when faced with larger portions. Think about this: how easy is it to eat the entire bag of chips when half a bag is a serving?

As a society, we eat out a lot. This has taught us to adopt the supersize mentality at home as well. People, in general, do not know what a portion should look like. In fact, studies show the more food we see, the more food we eat. So, the trick is to keep it out of sight, therefore out of mind.

So how do we get our portion sizes in control? At home a set of measuring cups and spoons and an inexpensive scale will shed light on your serving sizes. For a week, measure and weigh all your food before you put it on your plate. You may be surprised at how many servings you have been eating.

Because you don’t want to bring your measuring utensils and scales with you when you eat out, another trick is to visualize everyday objects to estimate portion sizes. Here are some quick tips I teach to help you with portion sizes.

  • A teaspoon of butter or margarine is roughly the same size as the tip of your thumb (to the first joint)
  • Three ounces of meat is equal to a deck of cards, or the palm of a man’s hand
  • One cup of pasta is about the size of a tennis ball
  • One bagel is about the size of a hockey puck
  • 1 ounces of cheese is the size of a one inch cube
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter is roughly equivalent to ping-pong ball
  • A matchbook is equivalent to one tablespoon of oil, salad dressing or mayonnaise
  • A half cup of vegetables is the size of a light bulb
  • A nickel (diameter) is 2 ounces of dry spaghetti which equals 1 cup cooked spaghetti
  • A baseball is equivalent to a 12 ounce potato or 1 cup cold cereal.

So, what can you do to keep your waist from growing at home beside measuring and weighing?

  • Use a luncheon size plate for dinner
  • Move the meat off the center of your plate and pile on the vegetables
  • Take a small portion of a snack food and put the container away. Better yet, buy these foods individually packaged, or divide the bag into portions and store them in small baggies.
  • Put half your restaurant meal in a doggie bag for lunch the next day.

It’s easy for an extra bite here or there to really add up in calories. Day after day of making those choices and you notice that your waistband is a little bit snugger than it used to be. Those extra little helpings add up to sizeable numbers of calories. In fact, the average adult gains one to three pounds per year by consuming as little as an extra 100 calories per day.

If you are interested in your group learning more about Portion Distortion, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at


By Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609

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