What Is a Healthy Portion Of Food?


It’s true to say that most people don’t know what a healthy portion of food should look like.

For some of you, that may be because you’ve been “on a diet” for so long that you just can’t remember what normal eating is.

For others, it can stem from a long battle with an eating disorder.

And for others, it may be something completely different.

But there’s no doubt, the current trend of super-sizing meals doesn’t help us one bit to get it right.

In terms of portion size, using everyday items can be an effective way to work out what a healthy serving of food should look like.

The term portion and serving are often used interchangeably, however they do not mean the same thing.

A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat, for example half a bag of nuts.

A serving is the amount of food health professionals recommend you eat, for example one ounce of nuts.

So, when you choose your portion, you should try to make it as close as possible to the recommended serving sizes. That will help you to stay on track with your healthy eating.

Portion Sizes Using Everyday Items

As I’ve mentioned, visualizing a food’s size, shape or weight, in comparison to something else can be very helpful.

So, here are the main foods groups compared to everyday items, to help you work out what a healthy serving would look like on your plate.

An example…

You will see that I have suggested up to two fruits per day. For you, that may look like one 1/2 cup of fruit salad, and one piece of fruit about the size of a women’s fist.

Or, from the meat and beans groups, you may choose to make up two of your portions by choosing some fish about the size of a deck of cards, and some lentils about the size of a billiard ball.

1. Fruits and Vegetables

Aim for 5 to 7 portions of vegetables each day, and 1 to 2 fruits. Try to go for fresh most of the time.

  • A serving of fresh, canned, or frozen chopped fruit — is the same as a billiard or snooker ball (or 1/2 cup).
  • A serving of dried fruit like raisins, apricots or cranberries — is the same as an egg (or 1/4 cup).
  • One piece of whole fruit, a side salad, or a serving of soup — is the same as a woman’s fist (or 1 cup).
  • A serving of raw vegetables for example leafy greens or raw carrots — is the same as a woman’s fist (or 1 cup).
  • A serving of cooked vegetables  – is the same as a billiard or snooker ball (or 1/2 cup).
  • A serving of fruit or vegetable juice is simply 150mls.

2. Meat and Beans

Aim for 2 to 3 servings each day, and go for lean meats and plant proteins when you possibly can.

  • A serving of cooked beef, poultry, fish, or tofu — is the same as a deck of cards (or 2 to 3 ounces).
  • A serving of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, or other legume – is the same as a billiard or snooker ball (or 1/2 cup).
  • A serving of nuts, seeds, or nut butter — is the same as a ping pong ball (or 2 tablespoons).
  • Eggs are naturally portion controlled. A serving is 2 eggs.

3. Grains and Potatoes

Aim for around 6 to 8 servings each day, and choose wholegrains whenever possible. However, if you are trying to lose weight, you may need to reduce your intake a little.

  • A serving of bread, a small bagel, or small bun — is the same as an index card.
  • A serving of cooked grains such as oats, rice, pasta or bulgur wheat – is the same as a billiard or snooker ball (or 1/2 cup).
  • A serving of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal such as flakes, puffed rice, or shredded wheat – is the same as a woman’s fist (or 1 cup).
  • A serving of baked potato, egg-sized potatoes (about 3), or mash — is the same as a computer mouse.

4. Milk and Diary

Aim for 2 to 3 servings from this group each day.

  • A serving of cheese — is the same as a pair of dice (or 1 ounce).
  • A serving of milk, yogurt, or soy milk — is the same as a woman’s fist  (or 1 cup).
  • A serving of cottage cheese — is the same as a billiard or snooker ball (or 1/2 cup).

5. Fats and Oils

Fats and oils are important in your diet, but do eat them in small portions, and choose heart-healthy options where possible (e.g. olive oil, rice bran oil).

  • A serving of butter, margarine, oil, full fat dressing, or thick cream — is the same as one die (or 1 teaspoon).
  • A serving of reduced fat salad dressing, homemade oil-based dressing, or sour cream — is the same as two dice (or 2 teaspoons).

Remember, these are merely suggestions. It is always a good idea to weigh some of your favorite meals and snacks, then try to memorize what they look like on your plate, so that you get your serving sizes right in future.

What tips do you have for working out a healthy portion size?

Email address

About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?

Free Book: The Secret Behind Optimal Health!

Join +17,936 other smart people by entering your email address.
This will send you my book, which is a brief guide to Life Mastery.
It's absolutely free and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Not convinced? Read 7 Reasons to Subscribe!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth October 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Brilliant!!! I so need to be reminded often what a portion size is!!! Even in vegatables sometimes I eat too much!!! So not necessary!

Thankyou again Melanie for this timely reminder!!


Melanie October 20, 2011 at 8:08 am

Hi Ruth,
I wouldn’t be concerned about eating too much vegetables so much as too little. The recommended 7 per day, is more of a minimum, than a maximum. But it’s good to know what one portion looks like so that you are sure you are getting enough.


cathy in NZ October 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm

some items you can eat a lot more of especially vegetables and fruit…

but that is from a natural point of view. Once you start adding sugar, salt, dressings, sauces you up the anti and it won’t be good for you.

recently i have been thinking about having sushi (the rice, inner and wrapped in seaweed) but I don’t know what the portioning/serving size is for that? Do you know?

however, I had a few pieces yesterday for lunch and it just wasn’t enough, and I ended up having to eat something else much more filling mid-arvo…

there are websites where they visually show you what a deck of cards/dice is – because I’m sure people really “don’t know” or they prefer to add a frill to the dice…:-)


Melanie October 20, 2011 at 8:18 am

Hi Cathy,
I think a portion of sushi rolls would be 4 or 5 pieces (depending on the size the pieces are cut). Basically the full length of the seaweed wrap filled with rice, veg and fish. Did you eat less than that? Perhaps if you are having sushi you can add some extra raw veg on the side to fill up. Very healthy choice!


Cathy in NZ October 20, 2011 at 8:29 am

I ate less than that – 3 pieces although one wasn’t actually a rice wrap more a seafood with a crumb.

Will see about eating a 4/5 portion next time I do that and see how that goes…


Taleen October 17, 2011 at 1:32 am

Wonderful Melanie! This is a REAL help!!!


Melanie October 20, 2011 at 8:26 am
Alina November 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Thanks Melanie,
This is very helpful. I loved it!!!


Melanie December 2, 2011 at 10:38 am

Thank you, Alina.


Leave a Comment

{ 4 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: