Most portions regularly eaten by Americans actually constitute sufficient food for two or more meals. Americans have grown accustomed to bagels and muffins the size of bocce balls, steaks and chicken breasts that spill over the sides of the plate, potato haystacks and sand pails of pasta. Gauging proper portion sizes requires some training; there are visual methods to help you figure out the difference between sensible amounts and portion overkill.
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Give yourself a hand to determine reasonable servings. According to Ruth Ann Carpenter of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, your hand can accurately measure portion sizes. Your fist is about a cup -- the amount you should eat of cereal, fruit, soup, salad or spoonful of casserole. Cup your hand and you have a half-cup -- the recommended amount of pasta and other starches, ice cream or desserts. Your palm -- not counting the fingers -- represents a roughly 3- to 4-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish.
A serving the size of your thumb equals about a tablespoon -- a sufficient amount of peanut butter, sour cream, salad dressing or cream cheese to spread on other foods. Fats, such as butter, oil and mayonnaise, should be kept to a teaspoon per meal -- a portion about the size of the tip of your thumb.
The right portion size can be as close as the gym or sporting-goods store. Vegetable and fruit servings should be the size of a baseball. A golf ball is equivalent to 1/4 cup, the proper serving size of nuts or dried fruit. Your dollop of peanut butter should be equal in size to a ping-pong ball. A portion the size of a tennis ball is a sensible scoop of ice cream. Tennis balls are also a good way to judge the size of a medium-sized apple, orange or pear.
Poke around the house for other handy visual aids. For example, a baked or boiled potato should be the size of your computer mouse. Stack six dice to get an idea of a 1 ounce, single-serving size of low-fat cheese. Whip out your checkbook or a deck of cards to measure a healthful 3 to 4 ounces of fish, chicken or meat.