Are you trying to eat fewer calories to be at a healthy weight? Using the proper serving size is crucial to making healthier food choices, so it’s a powerful self-care activity to master.
This article provides easy tips to find and measure serving size and make changing your lifestyle simpler! Portion control is a method many people use to eat less food when working on a weight loss goal.
While you can try different methods, like using smaller plates or cutting a larger portion in half, the best way to control a portion of food is by checking the serving size on the nutrition facts panel of the food item.
Definition of Serving Size
Our first step is to talk about the definition of a serving size.
The phrase serving size refers to the information on a nutrition facts label using the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) guidelines.
In contrast to the serving size, a portion is an actual amount on your plate. Therefore, a portion may be more or less than a serving size. Portions are how people talk about the amount of food they eat.
The serving size can help guide you to nutritionally appropriate portions in any food group.
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How is Knowing a Serving Size Helpful?
Serving sizes can also help you figure out how much food to eat at one time.
For example, if you know you can eat a cup of yogurt but only two tablespoons of peanut butter, you can discern there are more calories per portion in peanut butter than yogurt. Therefore, you can get a feel for the number of calories in food simply by reading the amount of food in the serving size.
Eating a recommended serving size is helpful, especially if you’re eating too many food portions or if the portions are of the wrong food. Staying aware of serving sizes can also help you:
- make healthier food choices
- measure calories
- reduce sodium
- lose weight
In addition, careful monitoring of serving sizes may be necessary for health conditions such as:
- or kidney disease
I hope this all makes perfect sense now.
The good news is that when deciding what to eat, you’ll naturally ask yourself, “What is a typical or standard serving size?”
Interestingly, within the last few years, the FDA mandated that food manufacturers list serving sizes closer to the portion sizes of what people are actually eating. They changed the law(s) to ensure consumers had access to standardized serving sizes and more clarity on the number of calories they would consume if they ate that serving.
So now, the serving sizes you find on the Nutrition Facts label DO NOT reflect recommended serving sizes for best nutrition. This is important to note because you can continue to reduce your calories by eating less than the stated serving sizes, and trust you’ll still feel satisfied.
Find and Measure Serving Size Found on Food Labels
Foods that are in a package are required to have a food label. Many different things are listed on food labels. This article will focus only on the serving size and calories typically listed at the top of the label.
The serving size and the servings per container are listed.
Next, you can see how many calories are in EACH SERVING of 1/2 cup, which is 150 calories. (So, if you eat one cup of the food, you are eating two servings and thus 300 calories.)
Here is an example. Listed right beneath ‘Nutrition Facts,’ you can see the serving size is 1/2 cup dry (40 g) (dry, meaning you will likely add liquid to it, but the dry contents are listed here).
Using a food label is reasonably straightforward, but it gets more challenging when you start eating more healthy foods because you usually buy them fresh. Fresh fruits & vegetables may not always come with a food label, so you’ll need to look them up (see more below).
How to Calculate Serving Size
- Look at the Nutrition Facts label on the package.
- Note the serving size immediately under the title ‘Nutrition Facts.’
- Also, note the number of servings in the container located under the serving size. (This will tell you if the entire contents are more than one serving, i.e., a bag of chips.)
- Some foods require adding liquid before eating. If you see the word dry after the serving size, you must also find the liquid’s serving size (important if you’re watching calories).
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What to Use to Find and Measure Serving Size
Portion distortion can be a real problem when you first begin changing your lifestyle; eyeballing it without measuring will not be accurate very often at all. A great way to make sure you’re eating the serving size is to measure or weigh your food items.
You’ll see volumes of tools, strategies, and tricks to measuring serving size, but good old-fashioned measuring cups and food scales are the two most effective and inexpensive kitchen items that work the best, and you may already have them.
I like this 19-Piece Measuring Cup and Measuring Spoons Set (#pdlink) because it has more than just the typical four sizes of 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and 1 cup.
I also use this Digital Scale (#pdlink) almost daily.
If you’re trying to lose weight, measuring or weighing your food with a kitchen scale will give you the most accurate results and get you to your weight loss goals faster than estimating or guessing.
You may already have these in your kitchen, but if you do not, please know they are worth the small investment. The digital food scale is helpful when working with protein, nuts, and whole grains and is reliable and accurate.
If you want to pre-measure your food for lunch at work or future evening meals, you might like these food-standard serving containers.
Serving Size of Fruit and Vegetables
If you’re looking to find and measure the serving size of a fruit and vegetable, you’ll like how simple it can be.
Generally, you can estimate that a serving of fruit or vegetables will be around 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Leafy greens bounce up to 1 cup.
If you eat the whole food, you can gauge the size by comparing it to the bottom of your fist or a cupped hand to estimate a serving. (For example, the entire fruit is the serving size of an orange.)
Just make it simple.
You can eat a lot of fresh produce. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends making half of your plate be fruit and vegetables. For specifics, you should have 4-5 servings of fruit daily, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
You’ll feel full but not consume many calories.
On the contrary, if you eat two store-bought toaster pastries, you will find them gone pretty quickly, you won’t feel full, but you’ll have consumed 400 calories!
Let’s Keep It Simple – Serving Size of Ice Cream and Cookies!
Sometimes, you’ll want to treat yourself! But, as I said above, you can limit your portion to a single serving (or less!) and make a healthier choice.
So, if you find yourself asking the question ‘What is one serving of ice cream?’ or ‘How many cookies should I eat?’ over and over again (surely it’s not just me!) – remember these two things:
- A serving size of ice cream = 1/2 cup – 2/3 cup (ice cream serving size varies depending on the flavor, brand, and ingredients. If there are candy, chocolate, or nuts in it, the serving size will be smaller). A pro tip: use a melon baller tool (#pdlink) to scoop ice cream to feel like you’re eating a ‘large’ serving! Five small scoops look bigger than one scoop!
- A serving size of a cookie = 1-3 cookies (Cookie serving size will also vary depending on the size of the cookie and the ingredients.) You can expect the serving size of 1/2 dollar-sized cookies to be more than softball-sized cookies.
The most important thing is to eat realistic serving sizes when you treat yourself while trying to lose weight, manage a health condition, or eat healthier.
The saying everything in moderation is a reliable guide!
Find and Measure Serving Size Found In Calorie Counter Apps and Online
If you have a smartphone, free calorie counter apps give you the information you need right when you need it.
These two apps below offer fabulous food serving size calculator information for free. You choose the serving size, and it provides both calorie and nutrient information. Both are great.
You can search online for the number of calories in a portion of a specific food and find numerous websites that can provide that information. Sometimes, though the data is hard to see on a prominent site.
Here is a website that offers a database of common foods, grocery foods, and restaurant foods. Find the search tab and enter your food to see the calories and nutritional information.
Some authors try to make it easier for you and show you ways to ‘estimate’ a serving size by comparing food to everyday objects.
The problem now, though, is that many authors have added so many things it is hard to remember the menagerie of items (tennis ball, size of a deck of cards, baseball, dice, cupcake liner, hockey puck, spice containers, spoons, baby food jar, and even small amphibians).
Find a set of items that you can remember.
And here is a wallet card that may be helpful.
How Do You Calculate the Serving Size for a Recipe?
For home cooks and the talented foodie, you might want to know how to determine the right serving size for homemade items.
Well, it’s pretty easy to learn how to figure out the serving size of a recipe. If you can do a little math, you’ll find all of these steps and tools offer a wide range of assistance.
- Weigh the cooking container
- Weight the food in the container
- Determine the number of servings
- Divide the food by the number of servings (use the app)
- Find total calories
- Find calories per serving
To begin, find the weight of the container (empty) before you make anything. Then, make your recipe and weigh the cooked food/entree when it’s finished. Finally, subtract the container weight from the cooked weight to get the final weight of the food. Decide how many servings you have and divide the final weight of the food by the number of servings.
Now, you can find the total calories.
But I prefer to go back to the Lose it! or the Fitness Pal tools. These apps have a tool specifically for recipes (and it’s free). Enter the ingredients using the recipe as a guide so you don’t forget anything. Then, divide this number by the number of servings. You can save this information in these apps.
Find and Measure Serving Size Wrapup
In closing, finding and measuring serving size when you start can be challenging. But, I promise the more you do it, the easier it will become. If you’re eating food that comes from a package, be sure to look at the food label. It does get harder to find a serving size without a food label, but you can succeed using the websites and free phone apps I suggested above.
Don’t give up; keep going and moving forward. You’ve got a valuable tool!
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Lisa Kimrey is a 30-year veteran registered nurse, speaker, and author of the Bible study, The Self-care Impact: Motivation and Inspiration for Wellness. At Mylifenurse, Lisa writes about simple ways to care for yourself to stay happy, healthy, and rejuvenated while you serve and care for others. Combining her years of nursing expertise with Scripture-based encouragement, Lisa shows readers easy ways to begin and maintain their self-care journey – without feeling guilty. Be sure to grab your FREE Self-care Starter Guide!