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Portion Control

Portion control means choosing a healthy amount of a certain food. Portion control helps you get the benefits of the nutrients in the food without overeating. Portion control is important because it helps you:

  • Digest food easier
  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight
    • If you are a cancer patient in active treatment, it is usually not recommended for you attempt to lose weight at this time. Talk to your healthcare team or a registered dietitian before making changes to your food choices.
  • Stay energized throughout the day
  • Control blood sugar levels

What is the difference between portion size and serving size?

A serving size is a standardized, measured amount of food, such as the amount used for Nutrition Facts labels. A portion size is the amount you choose to eat, which can be more or less than a serving size.

In the United States, many people struggle with “portion distortion.” Often what one may view as a single portion is actually multiple servings. At restaurants and at home, large plates with large amounts of food have become common. Learning to distinguish serving size from portion size helps correct portion distortion.

What are serving sizes for different foods?

This chart explains the serving sizes of common foods. Use the visual cues in this chart to “eyeball” your portions to know how many servings you are actually eating. You can also check the Nutrition Facts label to learn the serving size of a food. See section below for information about how many servings you should eat.



Looks Like

Rice, Pasta, or Hot Cereal ½ cup Hockey puck
Bread 1 slice of bread CD case
Cold Cereal 1 cup Average adult fist
Cooked Vegetables 1 cup Baseball
Raw Leafy Greens 2 cups 2 baseballs
100% Vegetable Juice ¼ cup Ping pong ball
Whole Fruit 1 medium whole fruit Tennis ball
Cut-up Fruit ½ cup Computer mouse
100% Fruit Juice ¼ cup Ping pong ball
Dried Fruit ¼ cup Golf ball
Milk or Yogurt 1 cup Baseball
Cheese 1.5 ounces 4 dice
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons Ping pong ball
Nuts or Seeds 1/3 cup Level handful
Cooked Meat or Poultry 3 ounces Deck of cards
Egg 1 whole egg or 2 egg whites 1 egg
Cooked Fish or Seafood 3 ounces Smartphone or checkbook
Vegetable Oil, Light Salad Dressing, or Other Oils 1 tablespoon Average adult thumb
Low-fat Mayo, Soft Margarine, or Other Spreads 1 teaspoon 1 die
Ice Cream ½ cup or one scoop Computer mouse
Cookie 2 small cookies or 1 medium cookie 2 poker chips
Cake 1 slice of cake Deck of cards
Chocolate 1 ounce Dental floss package
Slice of pizza 1 slice 2 dollar bills
Soup or Chili 1 cup Baseball

How many servings do I need to eat from each food group?

Eating foods from a variety of foods provides your body with the fuel and nutrients it needs. The amount of certain foods and the amount of calories you need to eat depends on your age, sex, level of physical activity, and overall health.

For specific food and calorie recommendations for you, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian is the best source for personalized recommendations.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan is a good place to start for a general idea of how many servings to eat from each food group per day. Although created to help control high blood pressure, the DASH Eating Plan is a good general, heart-healthy eating style.

For a person eating 2,000 calories per day, the DASH Eating Plan recommends the following:

Food Group


Grains 6-8 daily
Meats, poultry, and fish 6 or less daily
Vegetables 4-5 daily
Fruit 4-5 daily
Low-fat or fat-free dairy products 2-3 daily
Fats and oils 2-3 daily
Sodium 2,300 mg  daily (1,500 mg lowers blood pressure even further)
Nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas 4-5 weekly
Sweets 5 or less weekly

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

The Dash Eating Plan also recommends choosing food rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein. Avoid saturated and trans fats.

Another good resource for general recommendations is Use the Get Your MyPlate Plan tool for food group targets based on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity.

What other ways can I practice good portion control?

Know the size of your bowls, cups, and plates. Measure how much the bowls, glasses, cups, and plates you usually use hold. Example: Pour your breakfast cereal into your regular bowl. Then, pour it into a measuring cup. How many cups of cereal do you eat when you use this bowl?

Section your plate. Your plate should reflect the following portions:

  • 1/2 plate fruits and vegetables: Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get a wide range of nutrients.
  • 1/4 plate proteins: Choose lean proteins because they are better for your heart and waistline.
  • 1/4 plate grains: Try to make half of your grains whole grain because they are good for your heart, and the fiber helps keep you full longer. Note: Yams, potatoes, and corn should be included on this side of your plate. Even though they are considered vegetables, they are high in starch.

Eat smart when dining out. Restaurant portions are often more than a single serving. Asking for a to-go box for your food can help you not overeat. You can put half of your food in the box and put it away, finishing the smaller portion left on your plate.

Eat smart when dining at home. If you are eating in, make your plate in the kitchen and don’t have serving bowls at the table with you. It’s tempting to eat more when food is in reach.

Use smaller plates for your food. A normal portion of food looks small on a large plate, making you feel under-served.

Do a “plate check.” Look at your plate and ask the following:

  • Is half of the plate fruits and vegetables?
  • Are the grains whole grains?
  • What kind of meat did I choose? Is it lean and cooked in a healthy way, or is it fatty and fried?
  • Are my dairy foods low-fat or fat-free choices?