Article at a Glance
• In the last twenty years, our portion sizes have increased dramatically, which has helped contribute to a corresponding increase in obesity.
• Learn more about appropriate portion sizes by visiting mypyramid.gov.
Research has shown that over the past two decades, portion sizes have increased dramatically. Larger servings at restaurants and bigger single serving sizes at grocery stores have changed our definition of a full plate. For example, a large order of fries at McDonald’s today weighs the same as a “Supersize” fry in 1998. The average bagel is now six inches in diameter instead of only three inches 20 years ago.
Not surprisingly, the United States has also seen a dramatic increase in obesity over the past 20 years, which is having a profound effect on our children. Doctors are starting to see children with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and high cholesterol — conditions traditionally only seen in adults.
Serving Sizes vs. Recommended Amounts
So how do we get our portion sizes under control? First, it is important to understand the difference between serving sizes and recommended amounts. Serving sizes tell you how many calories and nutrients are in a certain amount of food. This allows us to see how many calories or how much sugar or fat we are consuming. But it doesn’t necessarily tell us how much we should be eating. For example, it is perfectly okay to eat two to three serving sizes of vegetables, but we shouldn’t feel obliged to finish a whole can of soda because it is one serving size.
Instead you should look to recommended amounts, which tell you how much of different foods you need to eat to stay healthy. A great resource for determining recommended amounts is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid. MyPyramid helps you figure out how much food you should be eating based on age, gender, and level of physical activity.
The Divided Plate
Very few people are willing to weigh out their portions sizes, so the concept of the “divided plate” is a handy way to visualize healthy portion sizes. Divide your plate up into four equal sections. Use one of the sections for protein, another for starch, and the last two for vegetables. This is not a smorgasbord, so the food in each section should not overlap or be piled high. This is also a great way to make sure you are serving well-balanced meals.
Portion Size Tips
It may take some adjusting at first to get your family’s portions under control, but these tips can help you get off to a good start.
• Using smaller plates and bowls can help make food portions look larger.
• When packing up leftovers, store them in separate smaller portions so that family members won’t be tempted to pull them out of the fridge and finish them all up at once.
• Don’t eat out of the bag or box. Instead, serve up an appropriate amount of chips in a separate container and leave the bag in the cupboard. You can do the same thing with meals. Leave the pot in the kitchen and serve meals at the counter. You’re less likely to overeat when the food isn’t there for you to mindlessly pick at.
• Make a rule that only vegetables or salads can be served up for seconds.
• Don’t skip meals and take time for a couple of healthy snacks. Going to the dinner table too hungry often leads to overeating.
• Make vegetables and fruits a part of every meal. They can help fill you up while controlling calorie intake.
• Don’t eat on the run. Teach your children to eat slowly and enjoy their food. Sometimes it takes awhile to feel full, so slowing down gives your stomach a chance to send your brain the “we’re full!” signal.
• Restaurants are famous for serving way more than we should eat. When eating out, try to share meals. You can also pack up half the meal into a doggie bag before you even begin to eat.
• Say no to the “value meal.” Just because it costs a little bit more money doesn’t mean that it isn’t costing you a lot more in the long run. Your health is worth way more than a larger pile of french fries.
• Don’t make your kids clean their plates. Instead teach them to only eat until full.
• Get your kids involved. Let them help figure out portion sizes or help plan meals so that they include enough fruits and veggies. The Texas Department of Agriculture has a great brochure for kids to help them visualize appropriate portion sizes.
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