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Portion Sizes on the Go

Portion SizeAs a road warrior, it is likely that you hop from restaurant to restaurant in search of tasty, yet healthy food. Unless we succumb to the quarter pounder at McDonalds, however, portion sizes vary tremendously from eating establishment to eating establishment. Unfortunately, when we eat out at restaurants or grab a snack when we’re on the go, it isn’t always obvious if the portion served is the portion we are meant to have. Restaurants overload our plates with ridiculously large portions of food and if we ever dare to get a meal at a fast food or casual dining outlet, super-sizing is standard protocol. Unless you carry measuring cups and spoons everywhere you go, serving sizes can be anything but easy to decipher.

When writing Get Real and STOP Dieting!, I stumbled upon Lisa Young’s The Portion Teller.  She developed a system for people to easily gauge portion sizes without the need for kitchen gadgets; perfect for the road warrior and dining out. Lisa’s system leverages every-day items as a visual guide for portions, as opposed to the actual referenced measurement.

Here are some common foods, their healthy portion sizes and the every-day item you might use to visualize the portion size:

Fruit and Vegetable Portion Sizes:

  • 1 cup of vegetables, leafy greens = A Baseball
  • 1 cup of berries = Woman’s fist

Grains and Starchy Carbs:

  • 1/2 cup pasta or brown rice = Rounded handful
  • 1/2 cup cereal = 1/2 Baseball
  • 1 Slice of bread = CD Case
  • 1 small potato = Computer Mouse
  • 1 ounce pretzels = Tennis Ball
  • 3 cups air popped corn = 3 baseballs


  • 3 ounces meat or chicken = Deck of cards / iPod
  • 1 ounce meat or chicken = Matchbook
  • 3 ounces fish fillet = Checkbook
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans = 1/2 Baseball
  • 2 Tbsp hummus Ping Pong Ball / Shot Glass


  • 1 ounce hard cheese = Thumb / Tube of Lipstick / 4 Dice
  • 1 ounce slice of deli cheese = CD Case
  • 1/2 cup non-fat yogurt = 1/2 baseball
  • 1 cup of milk = 1 baseball


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil = 1 die / Fingertip
  • 1/4 cup nuts = Golf ball / Egg


  • 1 Tablespoon of horseradish = Thumb
  • 1 teaspoon of mustard = Fingertip

How do you ensure healthy portion sizes? Do you think this guide helps?

Info Source: Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD. The Portion Teller, New York: Broadway Books; 2005.

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