Fact Checked

How Do I Estimate the Correct Portion Size?

Jasmine Myers
Jasmine Myers

The best way to estimate the correct portion size is usually to start with a firm knowledge of what, exactly, an appropriate portion looks like. There are a couple of ways to get this information. Most governments and medical offices publish guidelines for healthy eating that break down how much of things like proteins, grains, and fruits healthy people should try to consume in a day. These guidelines aren’t rules, though, and part of the problem often comes in the way modern foods are prepared. Unless you’re cooking everything yourself, it can be hard to know exactly what’s in a given dish, and different food groups are often blended together. In most cases, the “correct” portion is a lot smaller than what restaurants serve, and many packaged foods actually contain numerous servings per container. Talking to a qualified medical provider, particularly one trained as a dietician, can also be very helpful. One-on-one help is often the most useful when it comes to discussing individual portion concerns and eating challenges.

The Modern Portion Challenge

A portion size of pasta is about 1 cup (140 grams).
A portion size of pasta is about 1 cup (140 grams).

In general, “portion size” is thought of as the amount of food an individual should eat at a given meal in order to both feel sated and remain properly nourished. The exact measurements for this are usually somewhat fluid, and have also changed over time as research dictates. Not all dieticians always agree on strict numbers, but they do usually all say that, at least in the West, people often eat far more than they should of certain types of food. This is particularly true of most restaurants; served food often contains more than one portion per serving, which can encourage over-eating. Incorrect portioning can, over time, lead to a number of different health concerns, but in most cases it’s pretty easy to fix.

Research the Rubrics

A serving size of meat is about the size of a palm.
A serving size of meat is about the size of a palm.

The correct portion for meat, fish, and other proteins is approximately three ounces, which is about the size of a person's three middle fingers when the hand is fully extended. An appropriate amount of fruit is one-half cup for most fruits. A single portion of pasta typically amounts to one dry cup (about 227g). Many restaurants serve as much as four times this much pasta for one entrée.

Estimating the right size doesn’t usually require you to actually measure the food, but if you know how much you should eat, it’s often much easier to divide up portions that roughly match that size. One common trick when eating out is to immediately divide the plate in half, eating one portion but packaging the other to go. Many companies sell special containers or plates that can be useful in determining the proper sizes, whether at home or out and about.

Consider Special Containers or Plates

There are also a variety of products on the market available to help consumers estimate portion sizes better. Plastic containers with lids and built-in measuring devices can be helpful if, for instance, you need to take lunch on the go but don't want to give in to the caloric temptations usually related to fast food. Lunch-sized plates that are portioned off to indicate the correct proportion of grains to protein, vegetables, and fruits may also be helpful to people trying make more balanced meals.

Consult a Dietician

Getting an expert consultation can also be helpful, both as a matter of basic training as a means of more personalized advice. General physicians can usually give this sort of counseling, as can registered dieticians. Registered dieticians are clinicians trained to help people recognize their eating patterns and relearn how to eat healthfully. This includes learning about correct portion sizes to lose weight, regain weight, or to address certain medical conditions. These types of professionals can also help you establish a diet plan or steer you toward resources that can help support you in your weight-management goals.

Professional help is particularly important if you suffer from medical conditions that are exacerbated by diet, or if you have now or have ever had an eating disorder. Individuals with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and compulsive eating, may have an imbalanced sense of body size and may also suffer from something known as “portion distortion.” Portion distortion is a term that refers to a disconnect between the amount an individual should be eating and the amount he or she thinks he or she should be eating. Professional help and counseling is usually recommended for people with this sort of issue.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


@umbra21 - Portion size isn't all about decreasing the amount of food though. You might want to increase the amount of vegetables or protein that you're consuming, or reduce the amount of saturated fats.

I think it's great for people to look at portion size as a starting point on an eating plan, but they also need to consider the overall nutritional composition of a meal.


@bythewell - Meal portion size at restaurants has become much too large for the average person lately, but I don't think we need to make a science out of it. I find that as long as I don't get into the habit of eating huge portions, and as long as I eat relatively slowly, my body will tell me when I'm full.

This might not work for everyone, but I suspect the majority of people just either eat too fast or they simply let themselves get used to large portions.


This can be particularly tough at restaurants, because it's hard to know what exactly is in each meal. Even foods like steak often come with a sauce that might add to your daily levels of carbs or fats and if you order something like pasta, your portion sizes might not have much to do with the percentages of what is on your plate.

Sometimes restaurants will provide you with nutritional information so that can help you with your meal planning. But I find it works best if you try to overestimate what is in a meal and take smaller portions whenever you can.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • A portion size of pasta is about 1 cup (140 grams).
      By: Francesco83
      A portion size of pasta is about 1 cup (140 grams).
    • A serving size of meat is about the size of a palm.
      By: Kenishirotie
      A serving size of meat is about the size of a palm.