Making Sense of Food Portions: Quick Visual Guide

My Diet Matters
making sense of food portions

A picture can be worth a 1000 words. This statement can apply to deciphering how much you should consider eating as well. Many nutrition practitioners and chefs enjoy using food scales, but this is not always practical in real life non-kitchen settings! Even the most steadfast food scale worshipers can find themselves tired of weighing food or dining out and unable to use that food scale! With time, you should be able to estimate your food portions and there are some great tricks for doing so. Making sense of food portions is as easy as a picture or visualization!

Why you need to make sense of portion sizes

making sense of food portions

In the most basic sense of portion sizes, all nutrients are present in more or lesser amounts based on the food portion size. This is such a simple concept that most people never think about it this way. If portion sizes are hefty, you will get lots more of vitamins, minerals, and whatever else is in the food. You may get more fat and calories as well depending on the food. If portion sizes of meat are overly large, calories, protein, and fats may be excessive. If portion sizes of enriched cereals are too large, then iron from cereal consumption may be excessive. There is no question that it is important to get your food portions in line with what is appropriate-not excessive and not too meager!

Making sense of food portions with visuals

FruitsLooks like
15 grapeslight bulb
1/4 cup raisinsan egg
1/2 cup fresh fruit7 cotton balls
1 medium sized fruittennis ball or fist
1 cup cut-up fruita fist

VegetablesLooks like
1 cup green saladbaseball
1 baked potatofist or computer mouse
1/2 cup cooked broccoli or beanslight bulb
1/2 cup serving6 asparagus spears/8 baby carrots
corn on the cob1/2 large cob
vegetable juicesmall Styrofoam cup

Starchy foodsLooks like
1 cup potatoes, rice, pastatennis ball
1/2 cup of cooked ricea full cupcake wrapper
1 piece of cornbread or a rollbar of soap
1 slice of breadCD or DVD
1 cup cooked pasta fist
1 cup cold cerealfist
dry pasta amount for 1 cup cookedone nickel

Milk, yogurt, cheeseLooks like
1.5 ounces of cheese9-volt battery or 3 dominoes
1 ounce of cheesepair of dice
1 cup of ice creambaseball

Animal protein, peanut butterLooks like
3 ounces cooked fishcheckbook
3 ounces of cooked meat or poultrya deck of playing cards
2 tablespoons peanut butterping pong ball
1 teaspoon of peanut butterfingertip

FatsLooks like
1 teaspoon butterstamp size and thickness of pinkie
2 tablespoons salad dressingping pong ball or shot glass
1 tablespoon oilmatchbook
1 ounce of nutsone full shot glass
2 tablespoons avocadoone full shot glass

Making sense of food portions helps your health

If you remember that there are more nutrients in larger serving sizes and less nutrients in smaller serving sizes, it can help keep your diet on track. For instance, if you need more protein, eat larger portions. If you need less of the nutrients typically found in meats (saturated fats, fats, calories, iron), then decrease your portions. The opposite holds true. If you need less fat in your diet, then you must pay attention to the portion sizes of your fats because fat is concentrated in energy or calories. And, because fats are so concentrated in energy or calories, it is particularly easy to overdo the portion sizes. Think about that peanut butter you eat! Is your serving size like a ping pong ball or a fingertip? It makes a difference to your health and weight. Food portions always matter!

Beyond these portion control tips, licensed/registered dietitians can help you sort through what portions you need as an individual. You can find your expert here.

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN

Sue Rose helps readers sort through the maze of nutrition information available to the public. As a seasoned clinical dietitian/nutritionist with decades of experience, her blogs attempt to educate and inform the public at a time when there is so much information it is often overwhelming to understand. Stay tuned for clarity on a variety of topics!


Use this information at your own risk. Although I am a licensed IL dietitian/nutritionist, I am not your dietitian. The information in my blog Chew on This located at is for educational and informational purposes only. It is also my own opinion and subject to change in the future. Please consult with your own medical professionals for individual treatment.