10 Portion Control Pointers

Pause                       1 of 11

10 Portion Control Pointers

Written by Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian

With portions ballooning to extreme sizes, it's sometimes tough to stick to what we know are proper serving sizes. Eating contests, "value" meals and bags that contain "30% more free" all contribute to our environment of excess. You've chosen to fight back and take control of your portions. Great! It's a key step to weight management and will make you feel powerful in your food choices. Use some of these methods to help control the crazy portions so you can reach your goals.


When you're at home, whip out your measuring cups and spoons and start sizing up your portions before you eat them. This isn't something you’ll need to do forever, but it's a great place to start. Do you really know what a 1/2 cup of rice looks like once it’s poured onto a plate? Try measuring out your sizes for a few weeks until you get a good grasp on how much to serve yourself to get that proper size.

Downsize Your Dishware

Our eyes can be bigger than our stomachs! Even when deliberately trying to serve equal amounts of ice cream in two different sized bowls, participants in studies served more in the larger bowl with the larger spoon. Test yourself! Take out two different cups, one that is short and wide and one that is tall and narrow. Fill a pitcher with water, and attempt to pour 1 cup (8 oz) in each of them. Once you’ve filled both cups, measure the liquid in a measuring cup to see how close you are. More times than not, you will have poured more water into the short, wide glass. To combat the tricks our eyes play on our stomachs, switch to smaller plates (approximately 9 inches), cups (tall and narrow ones are better) and bowls. Save your oversized soup bowls for broth-based soup, salad and fruit only. Use smaller ramekins for ice cream, nuts, and creamy soups. Break out your large dinner plates for special occasions only.

Restaurant Resourcefulness

When you're ordering at a restaurant, there are many challenges to eating the portion size you intend to. Not only does the atmosphere encourage eating, but the average portions served can typically feed two or three people. Take control of the portions and either share your meal with a friend, or ask your server to box up half of your meal before bringing it to the table. Even if you have to convince the server that you're serious, it's worth it to keep the temptation of the second serving in the bag and off your table. Save it for lunch or dinner the next day!

Ditch the Bag

Place the food for your meals and snacks on a dish instead of eating directly from the container or bag, especially when doing something distracting like watching TV. Even if you intend to only have "a little," it's easy to get off track and without realizing you've eaten half the box! For every food item you buy in bulk servings (bags of chips, cereal, nuts, yogurt tubs and more), portion it into smaller baggies or containers as soon as you get home from the store. This will also help you resist the urge to snack directly from the container without being aware of how much you're eating.

Be Conscious around Company

Surrounding yourself with people who tend to overeat makes YOU more likely to overeat, too. Researcher Brian Wansink (author of "Mindless Eating") found that we mirror (to a point) the amount that our company consumes. We consciously and/or unconsciously follow the "consumption norm" of those we dine with by emulating how much they eat in order to achieve acceptance. Dr. Wansink’s studies reflected this behavior, and it’s important to be aware and attempt to make a conscious decision about how much you eat when eating among others. Other studies have shown that obesity does spread among friends and families, and the consumption norm could be one reason why.

Leave the Leftovers

Pack up leftovers before heading to the dinner table to make sticking to your first serving a cinch. Studies show that we eat more food when more food is easily accessible. Placing the extra servings of breakfast, lunch or dinner in the fridge or freezer before you sit down to eat is a good way to keep those second helpings out of sight and out of mind.


Comparing food portions to common objects that you know the size of is genius when it comes to portion control, especially if you don't have your measuring tools handy. It’s not as cumbersome as measuring or weighing your foods, but still provides a good estimate about how much food you're eating. Here are some common comparisons to keep in mind:

1 cup = baseball
1/2 cup = standard light bulb
2 Tbsp = golf ball
1 Tbsp = poker chip
3 oz meat = deck of cards
3 oz fish = checkbook
1.5 oz cheese = 3 dice

Perfect the 'Plate Method'

This visual strategy for portion control is a great way to slim down your protein and starch portions, and bulk up your servings of vegetables. Fill half of a 9- or 10-inch plate with non-starchy veggies or salad. Next, visually divide your plate in half again (to achieve 2 quarters of the plate) and place your meat or protein source in one spot, and your carbohydrate or starchy vegetable in the other. This method helps you control calories and increase your vegetable intake.

Stay on Schedule

Eating regularly throughout the day will help keep your portions at each meal in check. When you're ravenous by mealtime, it's easy to overindulge and disregard proper portion sizes. If you’re not already, get into the habit of planning your meals throughout the day, including small snacks between meals to keep your hunger under control. Then, you'll feel satisfied with a normal portion during your meals and prevent overeating.

Slim Down to a Single Serving

Recognizing the difference between portion sizes and serving size is important, too. A serving size is listed on a food label, while a portion size is what you serve yourself (or what a restaurant serves you). These are important to decipher because the numbers for calories, fat, sodium, carbs, fiber, etc. on the nutrition facts label describe a specified serving size, which can vary widely from the portion you serve yourself. This is a good reason why it’s a great idea to play with your measuring cups at home until you become a pro at serving up correct serving sizes.

See more nutrition slideshows Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints

Member Comments on this Slideshow

(scroll to end to leave a comment)


10/16/2014 10:24:18 AM

SUSAN727's SparkPage
I can't vision 1/2 cup as a standard light bulb. I appreciate the info.


10/16/2014 8:01:25 AM

Staying on a schedule prevents me from over eating and prevents my glucose levels from dropping.


10/16/2014 6:04:58 AM

I like the idea of putting up the leftovers before the meal to prevent seconds


8/11/2014 10:35:54 AM

Great tips to print out and post at work and home!


8/2/2014 7:03:13 AM

Great - thanks!


7/22/2014 8:34:49 AM

GOLFGMA's SparkPage
I like the smaller plate and think it helps me with portion control.


7/7/2014 12:53:44 PM

MSTWOMOONS002's SparkPage
I downsized not long after I joined spark people these are some GREAT tips, loved it keep them coming, update often Thank You


7/7/2014 5:57:08 AM

LEANMEAN2's SparkPage
Good to remember. Thanks for the refresher.


7/6/2014 1:56:16 PM

I have to have some support every day and I feel that this will help and the people I come in contact with the page so can u guys help me awanda


7/4/2014 6:31:21 PM

PHATNOMO11's SparkPage
This was very informative. The visuals will help me to better determine portion size when preparing and serving meals for my family.


6/2/2014 6:18:19 PM

All great pointers,also avoid buffets


6/2/2014 2:44:57 PM

Sorry but the visual images given really are off. Being from Las Vegas - we all know poker chips are flat. How can you use that for a tbsp. of peanut butter and a golf ball for two tbsp.? It's much to big of a variance, and causes one to have an inaccurate image.


6/2/2014 12:01:24 PM

GMA2MAX's SparkPage
These are helpful, but I've never found a piece of salmon that is as thin as a checkbook or a tablespoon of peanut butter that was flattened like a poker chip! The visuals are nice, but outside of flattening food or cutting it into weird cubes, these don't really work for me!


6/2/2014 11:46:28 AM

GMA2MAX's SparkPage
Brilliant! Totally starting to do this TODAY.


6/2/2014 11:42:59 AM

For the Ditch the Bag tip ~ When I am being mindful, I pre-porportion my food into sandwich bags. Like buying a 2 pounds of grapes and storing them in 1-cup servings in the fridge or pre-measuring shredded cheese into .25 cup amounts.

For the Measuring Cup tip ~ Go to the dollar store and get several inexpensive measuring sets. Keep them in a basket on the food prep counter. No excuses then if a measuring cup is wet or used.

Comment Pages (27 total)

x Lose 10 Pounds by April 8! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.