Serving Size vs. Portion Size

Healthy Mexican MealDo you know what the difference is between a portion size and a serving size? If you don’t, you’re not alone! I’m studying to be a dietitian and even I get confused sometimes. A serving size is the amount of food that it is recommended you eat in one sitting; for example, ½ cup of pasta. You can find the recommended serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts label. A portion size is the amount of food we’re served or the amount of food we choose to eat (which may be way more than one serving).

Even though the serving size of foods has stayed the same, the portion size of many foods has doubled or tripled in the last 20 or so years. Many foods and drinks now a days are super-sized, so it’s hard to know what a healthy amount of food actually is, especially at restaurants. Most people feel pressured to finish the food they’re given. It’s actually okay, and recommended, to leave some food on your plate or take home leftovers when you’re served a large portion.

Eating smaller portion sizes can be easy when you share a meal with a friend, eat one of something instead of two, such as one slice of pizza for example, and when you ask for a “to-go” box at the beginning of your meal. This allows you to put half of your meal in the box right away, which will keep you from eating it all at one sitting. Another tool to help you eat smaller portions is to eat out of small plates and bowls. This will create an illusion to make you think that you are eating more then you actually are. When you eat off of big plates or out of big bowls you will be more likely to fill it completely causing you to eat more than you might need to at that meal.

You may be wondering whether it is ever okay to eat more than a single serving. Yes, there are many situations when it’s okay! Teenagers, in general, need more calories than adults to keep up with their growing bodies and those who are very active will need even more. Males have more muscle mass and therefore need more calories to feed those muscles. If you’re not sure if you need more than one serving of something, check out the food label to see what one serving is. Start by eating one serving of a food and then wait a little while. If you are still hungry after 20-30 minutes, you may need to eat a little more.

To recap, servings are the recommended amount of a certain food and portions are the amount you choose to eat at one meal. Next time you go to the grocery store, or are sitting at the table eating your morning cereal, take a peek at the Nutrition Facts label and see if you can figure out serving sizes and all the nutrients in that serving size!