Which one of these portion sizes do you normally eat?


The three plates on the right are the Medium, Large and Super-sized you are served at McDonald’s. The smallest portion (½ cup) is the one recommended by the USDA.

What is portion distortion?

Portions we are served and we are used to eating are often larger than the recommendations, and they have increased over the last 20 years. We have get used to big sizes and this has changed our idea of a “normal” serving (1). But overeating increases the risk for developing weight problem and diseases associated with being overweight.

Research has shown that children eat more when offered larger portion sizes, even if they are not hungry anymore and do not need more energy intake (2 – 3). This is why it is important to know what their needs the recommended amounts are in order to adapt their meal portion accordingly.

What is the difference between portion and serving sizes?

A serving size is a guide to help you see how many calories and nutrients you consume and it makes it easier to compare products. It is expressed in household measures (cups, ounces, pieces, etc.). On products’ Nutrition Facts Labels, you can find the serving size and the number of servings in the container. Food packaging often contains more than one serving size.

A portion size is the amount of food you choose to eat at one time. It can be larger or smaller than the recommended serving size. The portion size we are willing to eat depends on our age, gender, appetite and activity level (1 – 4).

What are the recommended serving sizes?

Children and adults have different nutrition needs: children can eat the same foods as the rest of the family, but in different amounts.

These are the lunch and supper meal patterns for children 3-5 years old and adults (5). They are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  Ages 3-5 Adults
Milk ¾ cup 1 cup (not required)
Meat and meat alternate 1 ½ ounces 2 ounces
Vegetables ¼ cup ½ cup
Fruits ¼ cup ½ cup
Grains ½ slice of bread

or ¼ cup of cooked rice or pasta

*At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains

1 slice of bread

Or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta

*At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains

 How can I easily measure portion sizes?

Measuring serving sizes is not always easy. Here is a tip to make it easier: you can use your hand as measuring tool (6):

portion sizes

  • A handful of shredded cheese is about one ounce
  • A small handful of nuts is about 1 ounce
  • Your thumb is about the same size as 1 ounce of cheese
  • Your fist is about the same size as a cup or one once of cereal and grains
  • Your palm is about the same size as 3 ounces of meat, fish or poultry


Get your kids involved in meal preparation and in sizing portions!


By Maëlis Horellou

Intern – Majoring in nutrition and human health in France


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