Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Serving Size vs Portion Size: Do You Know the Difference?

By: Dr. Linda Carson, CEO, Choosy Kids

Healthy eating includes making choices. In recent years, making decisions about how much is on our plate, at home or especially in a restaurant, has become increasingly more difficult. This is because the new normal for portions consumed has become increasingly larger. Sometimes meals served to one person to eat is enough for two or more people! Even how we talk about these issues has changed over the years. It can be confusing because serving size and portion size mean two different things, yet they are often used interchangeably as if they are the same.

Serving Size

A serving size is the amount of food or beverage listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts label. A healthy serving size is the measured amount of food recommended by health agencies or allied health professionals, and so the amount is determined.

Portion Size

A portion size is how much I decide to eat for a meal or a snack, therefore the amount can vary. Sometimes food or beverage is sold as a single package (or portion) yet it contains several servings. Some meals could actually meet or exceed a whole day’s worth of recommended calories, fat, sodium, or sugar. When eating out, buffet style eating is the most challenging for keeping portion sizes under control.

Choose My Plate

If you have children or work with them, a great resource for learning about healthy eating, food groups, activity sheets, kid-friendly recipes, and tips for picky eaters is ChooseMyPlate.gov. The Choose My Plate image is becoming increasingly more popular as a tool to remind us of how foods should distributed on our plate.

For an inexpensive way to reinforce this at home, download the image of the plate, print, cut, and tape it to the under-side of a clear plastic plate and cup. This way your child (why not the entire family) can see how foods are recommended to be distributed on your plate at meal time.

Here is another concept to consider: the Choose My Plate image is a proportion plate suggesting to us how the various food groups should be on our plate in proportion to each other. While this visual is a very important and helpful reminder, we could still eat portions piled high that stay inside the proportion lines.


Child Size

Parents of young children often question how much is the recommended serving size for their preschool child?

Serve child-sized portions and let the child ask for more if still hungry. A general rule of thumb is that a serving size is about 1 tablespoon of food for each year of age up to five years. So using a tablespoon as your serving spoon can really help. As your young child grows, you can use a measuring cup for your server. Four tablespoons equal a quarter cup. Research shows young children can regulate their food intake even better when they dole out their own portion right into their own dish. So provide your child with either a tablespoon and count out the servings based on the child’s age or with older children use the ¼ cup measuring cup as the “serving spoon.”

The child’s age, gender and activity level determine the exact amounts needed. To have fun with music and nutrition, listen to the song, What’s On My Choosy Plate.

Another important nutrition concept is “division of labor” at mealtime. There are strategies for parents to help guide our youngest children into being empowered to be more in charge of their eating behaviors, or division of responsibility.

Choosing nutritious foods and keeping portion sizes sensible will help keep your family at a healthy weight. Using simple rule of thumb guidelines will be a great place to start.
  
How have you guided your child’s eating behaviors? Share your tricks or tips.

About the Author: Linda Carson, Ed. D, is the founder and CEO of Choosy Kids, LLC, and the Ware Distinguished Professor Emerita at West Virginia University. An award winning, nationally recognized expert, Dr. Carson has devoted her career to promoting healthy preferences for young children and the adults who make decisions on their behalf. Click here to learn more about Linda.

37 comments :

  1. I did not really know the difference between serving size and portion size. This is very helpful information.

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    1. Glad that we could help! Always good to learn something new :)

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  2. My husband is a registered dietitian and you explained this perfectly! :)

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    1. YAY! Is there anything different that he would add for children?

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  3. This is great for us, we are eating portion controlled food, knowing the right serving is great

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  4. Such an important difference to consider. Teaching your kids to use portion control when they are small will go a long way as the get older and have more control over their choices.

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    1. And in a child's mind, their eyes are not bigger than their stomach.

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  5. This is definitely something the kids should know. Choose My Plate sounds like a helpful tool to use!

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    1. It is the new version of the old school food pyramid :)

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  6. Great tips. You will laugh but I actually need this advice more for dessert. Seriously, that is when I tend to overeat and need to remember portion control.

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    1. I can't believe the sizes of some desserts that you get served when you eat out. The pieces are cake are sometimes like WHOLE cakes!

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  7. I love this. I have been trying to figure out good portion sizes for my son's lunches.

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    1. Bento boxes can be really helpful for this.

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  8. This is why I appreciate plates that were designed to have dividers for different types of food. It's important for me to give my kids the right amount of food that they need.

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  9. I love portion sizing. That makes me feel a lot healthier when it comes to consuming.

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  10. Good to know. It is important to teach this to our kids especially, and to be good examples to them when we are eating. Thanks!

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    1. Exactly! Being the good example is REALLY important!

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  11. This is a very good way of looking at things. I also like to remind my children they don't have to keep eating if they're not hungry!

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    1. YES!! The old "you have to clear your plate" rule is so outdated. Only eat until you are full, not overfull.

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  12. I love the idea of the plate it also helps the kids see what they are missing or getting to much of in a portion size.

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    1. It helps to generate conversations about each food group too!

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  13. Great post and resource! I think I'm sometimes guilty of giving my daughter bigger portions than she needs! It's the Italian in me haha! But the kid just loves to eat!

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    1. I am sure she stops eating when she is full though, so that is what is important. Not overeating but eating until satisfied.

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  14. Great advice!!!! It can definetly be tough figuring out how much to feed your kiddo!

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  15. Oh, nice to read this. It is really important that we measure our food intake.

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    1. Thanks! It really makes a big difference.

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  16. This is a wonderful post. I am not aware that this can be healthier.

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    1. Glad that you learned something new :)

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  17. Very informative. My youngest and I are working on upping the portion size of his veggies. ;)

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  18. I very much agree that healthy eating is all about making good choices. This is such a great analysis on dealing with a serving size & a portion size. Surely a worthy guide for moms like me!

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  19. Interesting. I never really thought about the difference between serving size and portion size. This is great info! Thanks so much! - Erin Kennedy

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  20. I never really thought of the difference before but I am glad I do now. I need to increase my portion sizes of veggies!!

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  21. Wow, I didn't know the importance. Thanks for sharing this very informative article.

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