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Food label on a box

A key part of healthful eating means choosing appropriate amounts of different foods. When it comes to deciding how much to eat, the terms serving size and portion size are often interchangeable.

Serving size is a standardized amount of food. It may be used to quantify recommended amounts, as is the case with the MyPlate food groups or represent quantities that people typically consume on a Nutrition Facts Label.

Portion size is the amount of a food you choose to eat – which may be more than or less than a serving.

For example, the Nutrition Facts Label may indicate 1⁄2 cup cereal per serving, but if you eat 3⁄4 cup, that is your portion size.

Estimating Portion Sizes

Measuring cups and spoons are great tools for making sure your portion is the same as the serving size. However, these tools aren’t always available when you’re getting ready to eat. Another way to estimate your portion size is by comparing it to your hand or an object.

A baseball or an average-sized fist = 1 cup (1 c)

  • 1 c of cold cereal, 1 c of rice or pasta
  • 8 oz of milk or yogurt
  • 8 oz of servings of natural fruit juices

A tennis ball or small, scooped handful = 1⁄2 cup or 1 ounce (1 oz)

  • 1 oz of nuts
  • 1 oz of dried fruits
  • 1⁄2 c of fruit or vegetables

A deck of cards or the palm of the hand = 3 ounces

  • 3 oz of fish, chicken, beef and other meats

StampThe size of the thumb = 1 tablespoon (1 tbsp)

  • 1 tbsp of peanut butter or other nut spreads, such as almond butter
  • 1 oz of low-fat cheese

A postage stamp or the distance from the tip of your pointer finger to the first joint = 1 teaspoon (1 tsp)

  • 1 tsp of oils or other fats


Before you eat, think about what and how much food goes on your plate, in your cup or bowl. t’s easy to mistake a larger portion as a better value. To overcome portion distortion and downsize your portions, try the following:

  • Read the Label – The Nutrition Facts label can help you to identify the appropriate serving size.
  • Eat from a plate, not a package – It’s easy to eat more than one serving when eating straight from the box or bag.
  • Use the right measuring tools – Try portioning out foods with measuring cups and spoons to give yourself an idea of what the serving size should look like.
  • Skip the upgrade – When dining out, it may seem like a better value to pay 50 cents extra for a larger size. However, you’re paying for extra-unwanted calories, fats, sugar, salt, etc.




Peer ReviewHelen Jones, Human Sciences Regional Extension Agent, Human Nutrition, Diet, and Health

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