Portion Size and Weight Loss

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on February 12, 2024
2 min read

It sounds so simple: Don't eat or drink too much. But looks can be deceiving. It's easy to eat or drink more than you planned to.

You can leave that mistake behind when you start to recognize a true serving size. Hint: It's often smaller than you think it should be.

Instead of trying to memorize lists of ounces, cups, and tablespoons, simply compare the serving sizes of foods to familiar things.


Vegetables or fruit: about the size of your fist

Pasta: about one scoop of ice cream

Meat, fish, or poultry: -  a deck of cards or your palm (minus the fingers)

Pretzels and chips: about a cupped handful

Apple: a baseball

Potato: a computer mouse.

Bagel: a hockey puck

Steamed rice: a cupcake wrapper-full

Cheese: a pair of dice or the size of your whole thumb (from the tip to the base)

The best way to determine the amount of food in a serving is to look at the Nutrition Facts label and measure it.

For example, fill a measuring cup with the proper-sized portion of vegetables, rice, etc. and then empty it onto a plate. That will help you learn what these serving sizes look like.

At home:

  • Use smaller dishes at meals.
  • Serve food in the right portion amounts, and don't go back for seconds.
  • Put away any leftovers in separate, portion-controlled amounts. Consider freezing the portions you likely won't eat for a while.
  • Never eat out of the bag or carton.
  • Don't keep platters of food on the table; you are more likely to "pick" at it or have a second serving without realizing it.

At restaurants:

  • Ask for half or smaller portions.
  • Eyeball your appropriate portion, set the rest aside, and ask for a doggie bag right away.
  • If you have dessert, share.

At the supermarket:

  • Beware of mini-sized snacks -- small crackers, cookies, and pretzels. Most people end up eating more than they realize, and the calories.
  • Choose foods packaged in individual serving sizes.
  • If you like to eat ice cream out of the carton, pick up ice cream sandwiches or other individual-size servings.