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From televisions and homes, to cars and computer memory, American consumers know that "bigger is better". Whether it's a new sport utility vehicle capable of transporting your son's entire little league team or the newest hard drive for your computer capable of storing as much information as the local public library—if it's big, we feel like we're getting our money's worth. Unfortunately over the years, the same thought process has grown to encompass food as well. As the prices of candy bars, carbonated drinks, fast food meals, pre-packaged dinners and snack foods have increased, so have the product sizes. And, of course, few of us have the willpower to let food go to waste.

Just how much food we actually eat is a major health concern in the United States. To gain some control over your family's eating habits and move them closer to recommended healthy guidelines, you'll want to turn your attention to portion sizes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines a "portion" as how much food you choose to eat at one time, be it in your own kitchen, from a restaurant, or from a package. When it comes to food and nutrition, the words "portion" and "serving" may sometimes be confused. The NIH adds that a "serving" size is the amount (in ounces or grams) of food listed on the product's Nutrition Facts panel (required by law on the packaging). The serving size noted on the Nutrition Facts panel is not a recommended amount of food to eat but a quick and easy way to communicate the nutrients and calories found in a specific amount of the food.

To understand the difference between a portion and a serving, read the food's packaging and compare it to what you have served yourself. The package serving size may state 1 cup but the entire package may amount to 2 cups of food. If you eat the entire package, you've eaten two servings which doubles the number of calories, fat, and nutrients stated for the standard serving. Tricky, isn't it? One simple way to help clear any confusion is to look at the "servings per container" information listed on the Nutrition Facts panel. Don't be surprised if a small package contains more than one serving inside. That cola your child just drank may have had a serving size of 8 ounces but the entire bottle contained 2.5 servings or two and a half times the sugar and calories—quite a difference

Organizations such as the American Cancer Society (ACS) note that eating smaller food portions is one of the easiest ways of reducing the number of calories consumed. Monitoring portions doesn't require you to carry a portable scale with you to weigh your entire family's dinner choices. To simplify matters, the ACS suggests equating healthy, recommended portion sizes of food to the size of common, easy-to-visualize, household objects.

For example:

  • 1 ounce of meat—the size of a regular matchbox
  • 3 ounces of meat (the recommended portion for a meal)—the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap
  • 8 ounces of meat—the size of a thin paperback book
  • 3 ounces of fish—the size of a checkbook
  • 1 ounce of cheese—the size of four dice
  • A medium potato—the size of a computer mouse
  • 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter—the size of a ping-pong ball
  • 1/2 cup of pasta—the size of a tennis ball

Once you acquaint yourself with what a recommended portion size looks like, you'll find it much easier to gauge how much food is a healthy choice for a meal. In addition, you may also want to try some tips for controlling portions during your daily meals at home and in restaurants.

HealthThe NIH recommends:

  • Avoid eating in front of the television or while busy with other tasks. Focus on what you're eating and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your food.
  • Eat slowly so your brain has time to receive the message when your stomach is full.
  • Take seconds of salads and vegetables instead of the higher calorie, higher fat portions of the meal.
  • Take the amount of food recommended as one serving and eat it from a plate. Don't eat straight from a bag or box.
  • If you cook in large batches, freeze what won't be served right away so you won't be tempted to finish eating the whole batch before it spoils.

When eating out:

  • Gauge the appropriate portion for your meal, eat, and ask for a box to take the remainder home for lunch or dinner the next day.
  • Order a half-portion, share your meal, or order an appetizer as your main meal.
  • Avoid "super-size" soft drinks and "value meals"—both far exceed recommended portion sizes and the extra serving size packs far more fat and calories. If you opt for a value meal, share it with someone.

Eating is a very enjoyable and social part of life. We eat to satisfy a basic need but we also include food when we wish to celebrate with those we love and care for. Now that you realize that, when it comes to food, things aren't always as they seem, you're well on your way to a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. So the next time you're hungry, turn that package, bottle, or can around first, read the label, and eat without guilt!

American Cancer Society—
National Institutes of Health—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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