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Cut Calories by Checking Portions

Searcy, Ark. –

Chances are, if you were to check your portion sizes you would be amazed at what you found out. Many have little or no idea what a correct portion size should look like, or even what a portion is. It is not the amount of food that you put on your plate, but rather an exact measurement in cups or ounces. To make it easier to follow and understand, all food group recommendations for MyPlate are made in household units (cups for fruits, vegetables and milk, and ounce equivalents for grains, meat and beans). 

Americans have completely skewed ideas about portion size. Have you ever ordered a chicken fried steak? And one was delivered that was a big as a platter, and that was just the steak? That my friend is not a correct portion. It was probably enough servings for a week.  I cooked a big batch of chicken over the weekend and portioned it out to freeze.  The portions were mostly 2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken.  And I wondered, “Is that enough for a meal?!” Just for the record, most people need about 3 ounces of protein at a meal.  So 2 cups of chicken is enough for about 5 people!

No other country on earth offers portions as enormous as the ones here. What constitutes a lunch menu item at a restaurant is close to the serving size we should be eating, but still not exactly the right amount. Go anywhere else in the world and order a meal. You'll see the difference. My Mom and I noticed that years ago when we went to Europe.  We were never hungry, but the portions were just enough – not too much.

Advertisers have conditioned us to believe that more is better. A good deal isn’t necessarily the most food for your money. We have “super-size” “biggie” “jumbo” “up-size” “colossal,” a lot of different options which do just exactly that to our waistlines. Just look at the endless marketing of fast food; we're constantly encouraged to eat more in order to get a "bargain." But, are you really getting a bargain if you're eating 2 cups of French fries in one sitting just to save a quarter you wouldn't have spent in the first place? Think about it, we, as Americans, are paying for this illogical thinking with our health and lives.

Keeping your portions under control is not that hard, really!

Here are a few tips you can use to keep your portions under control.

  • If you're at home, use smaller plates. This creates the illusion of eating a bigger serving.
  • Drink from a tall, thin glass rather than a shorter, fat glass. This will make you think you are getting more.
  • If you're at a restaurant and you know the portions are going to be huge, ask the server to put half your meal in a take-out container before it even hits the table. This saves you money as well as unnecessary calorie overload.
  • Or in these days of more take-out, share meals.  Do you really need a combo for each person?  You really don’t need a soda if you’re eating at home, do you? You can drink water instead, add some fresh veggies & fruit, and save the money you’d have spent on fries & a drink.
  • Share an entrée with your dining partner. Chances are, both of you can share and still go away full.
  • Make a new rule for yourself: Always leave something on your plate. We no longer have to be card carrying members of the “clean your plate club.” Leaving something on your plate reminds you that you are in control of the food, not the other way around.

 Here is a handy way to measure portion sizes.

  • 3 ounces of meat is equivalent to a deck of cards
  • 1 teaspoon of oil is equivalent to a quarter in diameter OR the tip of a thumb to the first joint
  • 1 tablespoon of dressing is about 3 thumb tips (or 3 teaspoons)
  • 1 cup of raw vegetables is equivalent to a light bulb or a baseball
  • 1 medium fresh fruit is equivalent to a tennis ball
  • 1 bagel or roll is equivalent to a 6 ounce can of tuna

You can take control of your portions both at home and away when you are armed with correct nutrition information. The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture has free publications that will help you. Get yours by contacting the White County Extension Office at 501-268-5394, or emailing The University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. For more information you can contact your local county extension service.  You can also follow Katie on Facebook @ uaex white county fcs .


By Katie Cullum
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Katie Cullum
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
2400 Old Searcy Landing Road Searcy AR 72143
(501) 268-5394


The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.