MyPlate is a fantastic guide to balanced eating, but did you know that it can help with portion control too? Yes, the proportions of your plate are important, and MyPlate encourages people to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables at each meal, loading up the rest with whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. However, if that plate is the size of a football field, the meal won't be as healthful. It's just too much food. Serving size matters, and moderation is key. Remember, MyPlate asserts that people should avoid oversized portions and enjoy their food, but eat less of it.
So, how can people put together healthful portions?
Tip #1: Get Informed!
The Nutrition Facts labels on foods are absolute treasure troves of vital information. You may be surprised at what constitutes a single serving, especially in things like bottled sodas and bags of chips. Get familiar with actual serving sizes and use the Nutrition Facts to calculate how many servings are in each container. You can even lay out a single serving of a given food on a plate over and over until you can eyeball it correctly. This will help you get familiar with a serving size and will make serving yourself in moderation much easier.
"Typical" portions really have changed over the years. To get a sense of these changes, take the portion distortion quizzes from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Start with quiz one, then try quiz two!
Tip #2: Think Ahead
Make things easier on yourself and lay out proper portions ahead of time. For example, when you come home with a big bag of chips, put single servings into smaller bags. That way you can still snack without having to fight the temptation to reach back into the giant bag for a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th serving. Another way to make life easier for yourself is to flash-freeze cookie dough. When you make dough for a batch of cookies, you don't need to bake them all. Instead, arrange scoops of cookie dough on a cookie sheet and stick the sheet in the freezer until the cookies are frozen. Then drop them into a Ziploc bag and store it in the freezer. When you get a cookie craving, pull a few out of the freezer and pop them in the oven! We wrote more about managing cookie cravings in Moderation and Cookies: Tips and Tricks for Healthful Eating -- check it out!
The same thing works with healthful foods like fruits and veggies. Wash, dry, chop, and store fruits and vegetables in single-serving containers. That way, when you want a snack, they're all ready to go.
Tip #3: Share
If you want to get or make something that only comes in a large portion, share it! Whether you're at a restaurant or a backyard barbecue, it can be easier than you think to share a large portion of food.
MyPlate's website is full of portion control tips -- if you're looking for more guidance, check them out! We also have a lot of portion resources in the Nutrition Education Store, and we've collected some of our favorites for you below...
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.