Believe it or not, there's a little wiggle room when defining the "right" serving size of chicken. However, several health authorities recommend sticking to established daily and weekly guidelines for protein intake — and that's a good place to start gauging serving size.
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A Serving Size of Chicken
As the University of Idaho Extension explains, a typical serving of meat, including chicken, is 3 ounces. That's about the size of a deck of cards, a computer mouse or the open palm of most peoples' hands (not counting the fingers).
But in its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends eating 5 1/2 ounces of protein foods daily. That's for a 2,000-calorie diet — if you eat fewer calories you'll also eat slightly less protein. For example, the typical protein allowance on a 1,600- or 1,800-calorie U.S.-style diet is 5 ounces per day, while for a 1,400-calorie diet it's 4 ounces.
Although you could theoretically eat those 5 ounces of protein all in one sitting, it's more satisfying — and easier to eat a balanced diet — if you split that protein allowance between a couple of meals. That's when it becomes handy to gauge your serving of chicken against a deck of cards or a computer mouse.
But wait — are those size comparisons for before or after you've cooked the meat? The answer is after. As the University of Rochester Medical Center explains, 4 ounces of lean, raw meat will cook down to about a 3-ounce serving.
Another Serving Suggestion
Here's another way of looking at your serving sizes of chicken — 3 ounces is equal to about 85 grams. Although that might not be the way most Americans think of weighing their food, it allows you to use the USDA's weight estimates for typical chicken pieces.
For example, an 85-gram serving of chicken breast would be slightly less than one-half of a small chicken breast. For chicken wings, 85 grams equals four small- to medium-size wings. For chicken thighs, the closest comparison is one large thigh, which weighs about 90 grams. And for drumsticks, you can bracket the difference with two small drumsticks (roughly 76 grams) or two medium drumsticks (about 100 grams).
Although you may be focused on serving size first, don't forget another factor in chicken nutrition, which is how you cook the meat. The fattiest part of a chicken is its skin; leaving the skin on roughly doubles each piece of meat's fat content. That can put a serious crimp in your portion sizing, because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting just 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories from fat.
The American Heart Association offers suggestions for reducing saturated fat content in meats like chicken. Those include removing the skin and trimming away all visible fat, selecting lean cuts (on a chicken, the leanest part is the breast) and using a rack to drain fat off when you broil, roast or bake the chicken.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 3. USDA Food Patterns: Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Visualize Your Portion Size"
- University of Idaho Extension: "Lean Protein Group"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken, Breast, Roasted, Broiled, or Baked, Skin Not Eaten"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken, Wing, Roasted, Broiled, or Baked, Skin Not Eaten"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken, Thigh, Roasted, Broiled, or Baked, Skin Not Eaten"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken, Drumstick, Roasted, Broiled, or Baked, Skin Not Eaten"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- American Heart Association: "Cooking to Lower Cholesterol"
- Cooking Light: The Hidden Sodium in Chicken