Serving size, that is.
Our eyes have grown used to super-sized fries, big gulps, mega-muffins and bigger burgers. Consider what’s happened to our waistlines in the last twenty years. Do you see a correlation?
A good little exercise—yes, I said exercise—to try in the privacy of your own home is to get to know what’s already in your own fridge, freezer and pantry. Start by finding for the nutrition label on the package. Today we’ll look mostly at the serving size and the number of servings contained in the package. That information is listed near the top. I find it helpful to circle the serving size with a Sharpie as a reminder.
What do you notice? Does that bottle of soda, can of soup, or frozen lasagna contain two or more servings? How much you typically consume?
For me, breakfast cereal was a huge eye-opener. Some of my favorites, especially those containing dried fruit, nuts or granola clusters, gave me a measly ½ cup. That won’t fill my bowl or my tummy. However, I learned they do just fine as a tasty topping for my yogurt.
There is also a big variation in crackers. Most crackers contain quite a bit of fat. That’s what makes them crispy and delicious. I have been known to pull several boxes of crackers off the shelf at the store and compare which box will give me more crackers per 100 calories, for example. 6 crackers? 14? Which one am I more likely to choose? Can I be trusted to only eat a few of the really calorific ones once I get them home? Probably not.
A kitchen scale, measuring cups and spoons are helpful tools to keep nearby at least until you retrain your eye. I don’t measure everything, but I do measure the more calorie dense items I’m adding to my salad, such as cheese, nuts, dried fruits, dressing. Those are also foods I’m more likely to overdo.
Another thing I’ve learned is that sometimes, a small amount of something very flavorful will satisfy me, whereas a larger amount of something not-so-tasty won’t. That’s why I sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of bleu or feta cheese onto my salad. Or eat a few of my husband’s French fries. Or eat one very good piece of dark chocolate after dinner.
If you are at home and inclined to actually measure servings, great. But if measuring sounds too restrictive or you’re eating away from home, here some–ahem–handy rules of thumb.
- A serving of meat: about the size of the palm of your hand
- ½ cup: what your cupped hand will hold
- 1 cup: about the size of your fist
- An ounce of cheese: the size of your thumb
- 1 tsp.: the tip of your index finger to first knuckle
- 1 Tbsp.: the end of your thumb to first knuckle
All are approximations of course. But this exercise may nudge you toward trying something new or perhaps eating a little less of more calorie dense foods. Remember, we’re after baby steps here, not an overnight transformation.
Please share what you’ve learned about portion sizes. Any “aha” moments?
Next week: Plate Geometry