Portion Size Matters

I am not one to count calories, fat grams or anything of the like, but that’s because the one thing I do try to stay mindful of is portion size (and only eating enough to feel full). But in today’s “super-sized” society (i.e. the United States) it’s harder than ever to determine if your portion size is even on par or not. Check this out:

According to French Kids Eat Everything, there was “A scientific study in which two researchers (one French, one American) weighed servings of identical meals at McDonald’s restaurants in Paris and Philadelphia. The serving sizes were wildly different: a medium-size serving of fries at McDonald’s in Philadelphia was 72 percent bigger than at McDonald’s in Paris.”

Let’s hope they aren’t charging the same price, ha ha ha. All kidding aside though, what’s up with that? And there’s more:

According to the CDC, over the last 50 years right here in America “The size of a hamburger has tripled, a basket of fries more than doubled, and the average soda has grown from a modest 7 ounces to a jumbo 42 ounces.” And some wonder why “The average American is 26 pounds heavier than in 1950. [And] about one-third of us are overweight or obese and that number is projected to hit nearly 50% by 2030.”


One contributing factor, according to research and Michael Pollan, is that instead of using our internal cues to know when to stop eating most of us “allow external, and usually visual, cues to determine how much we [should] eat.” So many of us are likely not listening to our guts and instead just continuing to eat until our plates are clean, the package is empty, or the TV show is over. When was the last time you left some food on your plate simply because you were starting to feel full? I am the first to admit…it’s easier said than done!

So aside from ensuring I eat a variety of real, whole foods (including full-fat dairy), keeping my portion sizes in check is at the top of my priority list. When our family documented and photographed everything we ate for a week last year there were a lot of comments indicating some of our meals didn’t look like enough food. Is that because people were comparing our plates to the super-sized portions of today or the way things used to be (and still are in France)?

I personally think real food is much more filling than the processed stuff so it doesn’t take as much for me to feel full. Plus when I do overeat, and it does happen occasionally (I am human after all!), it really is not a good feeling. And the other great thing about real food filling you up nicely is that it prevents all those crazy spikes in hunger and energy levels throughout the day that people often experience otherwise. Goodbye afternoon crash!

So don’t be fooled by what society is telling you is the right amount of food…eat what’s right for you. You can always go back for more, and believe it or not it’s okay to feel hungry in-between meals on occasion! Here are some things to try:

  • The next time you’re at a restaurant split an entrée with someone at your table.
  • Prepare your food on an appetizer plate instead of a standard sized dinner plate.
  • Eat more slowly to allow yourself time to feel full before going back for more.
  • Stop eating when you feel full…don’t worry about cleaning your plate or finishing the last bite!

What are your thoughts about today’s portion sizes? How did they get so out of control?

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but 100 Days of Real Food will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us spread our message!

133 thoughts on “Portion Size Matters”

  1. Totally agree! Processed food makes it extremely difficult to stop eating. The calories are packed in there with added sugar and fat, that we hardly get satiated with a proper amount of food.

  2. I switched to a smaller plate about a year ago and it has made a world of difference. I do not feel over stuffed when I finish a meal instead I feel full and satisfied. I also gave up soda in May and feel so much better and no longer crave sweets the way I used to.

  3. Do you think portion control plates are helpful, healthy and realistic? We eat very healthy but I love food, a lot, and have a hard time stopping sometimes. I have heard rules like – 1 cup of carb, X oz of protien and lots of veggies for dinner. But short of bringing measuring cups and scales to the table, I thought the plate might be a good idea. Your thoughts?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. I think if it is helpful and works for you, then you should use it. :)

  4. I can’t tell you how many servers look at us in surprise because they don’t think we have enough food. Yet, we don’t leave the restaurant hungry! We have been sharing entrees since college (of course, back then it was to save money), so now it is second nature..

  5. to eat, but eat healthy, is the key all foods are good for you but with everything moderation is the key, and get active.

  6. We call it “recreational eating” when you are full but it’s just sooooo good you can’t stop shoving ‘more food in your mouth. Haha! I’m still suffering and trying to recover.

    Stop eating when you are not hungry – so simple yet so hard!

  7. What would be really nice in restaurants is if you had a choice in entree size. Restaurant owners say people expect enough food for two or three meals when they eat out. I don’t. I like to have just a decent, average amount.

  8. Portion and plate size are important! My husband and I try to divide the food in half – saving half for lunch or dinner the next day, Then I plate the food in the kitchen – sort of like as if I were dining out. This usually (not always) will prevent us from going back for seconds.

  9. Great ideas about portions but as a cafe owner may I say that splitting an entree is a pain! We are in business and I notice more and more restaurants are not allowing it as it actually costs money. How about you take half home to eat later?

    1. I love it when restaurants offer different portion sizes. Cafes that offer half-sandwiches, or dinner places that offer “half-plates” of the pasta meals. They can charge more than “half” the full-size entree price (which is fair – the same effort goes into cooking and plating for the smaller portion), so they get more than they would if I split with my table-mate, but I don’t have to worry about over-eating or carrying a box out, if I don’t want to.

  10. I ALWAYS want more! For me, I think subconscienciously knowing how healthy our meals are, I do take those extra few bites or second helping….. It’s tough when the food is SOOOoooooo good! :) I need to learn to stop when my plate is clean.

  11. Portion size is absolutely key! I started using a timer when I eat and only take a bite every minute. I’m full on 1/4 of the food I was eating.

  12. It does go the other way as well though. I’ve been accused of being an over-eater and that’s a bit frustrating when I eat a healthy (real food) full meal and am legitimately hungry enough for another a couple hours later. I have high metabolism and often feel sick because of not getting enough food. It runs in my family. My children (1 and 3) also eat quite a lot (of real food) and I get many comments about that as well. I never tell them they have to eat everything given to them. We just truly require more food for survival. :)

  13. I am a firm believer that young children are great self regulators when it comes to food. I rarely insist on either of my children finishing their plates. My problem area however, is “dessert”. I do ask that they finish their meals if they would like dessert (and to clarify, dessert doesn’t happen every night and often times is just fresh fruit). Somehow I feel like this forces them to eat more than they would on their own. Any suggestions on the best way to deal with this?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Marianne. This is how I handle dessert nights(and we’ve had our share of pumpkin pie lately): I just make sure that portions are a little smaller (other than veggies), so they aren’t getting over-full. It seems to work. :) ~Amy

  14. How I envy you… While your lunches look perfectly appropriate for your children, my teenage son does, indeed, require MORE! Especially with after school sports and the fact that he does not get home until after 5p.m. I miss those days of packing his old lunchbox in elementary school. Now I’m racking my brain for ways to get in more food that is not filler but nutritious as well.

  15. One idea we came up with that helps with portion control is when the kids want 2nds of something, they wait until a parent is finished to go get it. Often, they snack on the raw veggies from their plate while waiting and eat much less as the feeling of being full hits them! It also has caused them to eat slower since they’re gonna wait anyway.

  16. I have to laugh every time I hear about how this isn’t enough food regarding one of your posts. I too have a 3rd grader and we pack about the same or slightly less. But that’s appropriate for MY child. That’s the point, what’s appropriate for each child (and staying mindful of NORMAL portion sizing). Of course I would not expect this to be enough for a boy in middle school or high school. And the comments like “really your kids eat that!” I have been very lucky to have a kid that is NOT picky, that said, some kids just are, despite having been exposed to variety etc. (I have a friend who’s daughter had a period of only drinking milk and eating sausage or salami. He son, on the other hand was anxious to try escargot. In the same household … exposed to the same foods … Totally different taste buds.) Let’s look at this from a better perspective … Everyone is different and hopefully parents are in tune with what their child needs. And that’s not a cold Happy Meal with “chicken nuggets”. Yes, apparently a kid in my son’s class has this very often. Luckily, my son is kinds grossed out by it, as I am.

  17. There are little changes you can make that will trick your mind into thinking you’re eating more. Like using smaller plates, instead of the 10″ round plate, go for a 6-8″ plate. If you fill the smaller plate and eat it all, your brain thinks you are more. Or, using a plate with a contrasting color to your food. So if you’re eating chicken veggies and potatoes, go for a dark plate, or if you’re eating steak, go for the light colored plate. When you can see how much food is on your plate, you’ll eat less. But when your food and plate are similar in color, you don’t realize just how much food you have. These are great little tips that I’ve adopted…here are more: http://bit.ly/143h1vu

  18. Good point about visual clues. My husband was recently at a weight loss class at our local hospital and the teacher told them that you are more likely to feel full when you eat a smaller plate (like an appetizer plate) that is full than a large dinner plate with spaces. Since then we’ve been using our small salad plates to help control portions. Still not trying to pile it on, but making our eyes think we’re getting lots.

  19. I know my father-in-law confuses great restaurants as ones with with huge portion sizes. The food doesn’t even have to be good. He often would rather go to an all-you-can place with awful food then a place with really good food because, to him, it a “better bang fir your buck”. I’m sure he is not the only person to think this way.

  20. When my oldest went to camp earlier this month, all the leaders could talk about was how I needed to pack lots of snacks, because they didn’t get fed very much. So, he and I went to the store, and I stocked him up. When we went up to see him halfway through the week, he had hardly touched anything, because he said he was getting more than enough. Without making judgments, the leaders probably fell into the “overweight” group, so they were probably used to much larger portion sizes. It made me feel good, because portion size is something I struggle with, and I was glad to know that he has a healthy view of what is an appropriate portion. He’s also had some bad experiences when he’s over eaten, so he is more aware of how much he eats.

  21. All good points. One thing I’d like to comment on, you mentioned that one-third of Americans are overweight or obese. Actually, it’s more like two-thirds, just shy of 70%. Even more concerning…

  22. My husband and I registered for dinner plates at Pottery Barn and when we got them, we couldn’t believe how huge they were! We now use them as serving dishes and exclusively use the salad plates as our dinner plates.

  23. I’m not sure who is citing what up there, but the CDC’s own website says 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese. OVER 1/3 of Americans (35.7%) are obese. I’m not trying to nitpick, just pointing out the situation is even worse than that paragraph says.

  24. I definitely agree. We’ve been trying to be better at portion control. I don’t like to throw food out, so I try to serve less and put the leftovers into the fridge right away (portioning them into lunch containers) has helped. :)

  25. Our family typically only eats on smaller plates (ones used for snack portions) – even at dinner time. It helps TREMENDOUSLY with not only placing reasonable/healthy portions on our plates, but also with feeling content with those portions. Totally agree that most of our restaurants serve ridiculous amounts of food – I no longer enjoy the feeling of “fullness”, it’s uncomfortable and makes my stomach bloat…not a fun feeling. Took a while of eating small portions though to even learn to be aware of that! It’s truly amazing how we can program our bodies!

  26. When hubby and I travelled in the US four years ago, we were shocked at the portions! And food was super cheap too, so when we ordered, we assumed we would get a normal or smaller portion than we were used to. In Canada, I’m sure our portions are still too big, but they are certainly smaller (and more expensive) than in the US.

    As for the French fast food, it is smaller portions AND more expensive. Seriously.

  27. I think people are also worried about a good deal. They want to eat every bite because they payed for it. They want to supersize because for 50 cents more….twice as much food. They want a full salad because its only a dollar more. Its a problem.

  28. Thank you for this! I’ve been slowly trying to retrain myself on portion sizes and listening to my body instead of eating just because it’s there. My husband and I recently went to a local Japanese restaurant where part of the dining experience is watching the chef cook at your table. The food is delicious, but the main entree is ginormous. After the soup, salad, and tiny appetizer, I only had a few bites of the main dish and brought home the leftovers. I had lunch for the next four days in that doggy bag. Needless to say that place is a once in a blue moon treat for us.

  29. Over the last 6 months I have been really looking at what is in the food my family eats. I was astounded by the portion sizes and ingredients at our favorite restaurants. It has gotten to the point where I do not even enjoy my favorite restaurants because I cannot convince myself to eat anything on the menu. If I do, I have to modify it beyond recognition. Thank you for reminding us that we decide our fullness, not the person/people who cooks our food!

  30. When we eat dinner out, we usually ask for a box when our food arrives so that we can pack up half of it. We eat the other half the next day. Some restaurants are providing at least calorie counts on their menus. It makes it easier to gauge how much you should eat.

    Trying to stay GMO-free is more difficult (when eating out) unless you can find a restaurant that provides GMO information (I have not found one yet, besides Chipotle).

  31. Anyone have suggestions on teaching a 4 year old the sensation of full. I have the rare child who has ALWAYS cleaned her plate and asked for more. We have talked to her about it since she was 2 but will gorge herself if you let her. She comes home looking pregnant when visiting the grandparents…funny but not really. :-)

    1. It can be complicated and I could fill 10 to 15 pages with advice but a few quick suggestions are; Increase good fat and quality protien as well as whole high fiber food. Give her a glass of milk or some nuts and hour before mealtime. give her food that looks big on smaller plates (if you usually give her carrott chips for example instead give her large carrott sticks) Add an extra serving of a fruit or vegetable she like to her plate in addition to what you normally give her. Give her seconds (make it a very small serving) if she asks for them but have her wait 10 min first. If she asks for more tell her she can have a snack after whatever it is your family does usually for the next hour after dinner and if she still asks for it give her one but a small one. Unless she is gaining too much weight or is having health problems slowly correcting over time is better than a quick fix. Hardest tip? Put limits on the grands she should not be eating to the point you can see her stomach distending!

  32. We were out eating breakfast yesterday at a chain restaurant which is very unusual for us but it was a treat. I noticed the amount of food that was included in the breakfasts and was amazed. This was one of their special meals, two slices of blueberry stuffed french toast, choice of sausage or bacon, two eggs and potatoes. I cannot imagine eating that much food. Also, if you ordered just french toast that was 5 slices and I don’t remember what came with that, but I am sure some meat and something else. We ate some of the smaller portion breakfasts and that was more than plenty. Mine was a 2 egg omelet and a muffin which was huge and that was more than enough. My husband had one egg, two slices of bacon, hash brown potatoes, and 2 pancakes. That was a lot of food and we ordered the small portions on the menu. We don’t eat out often so I don’t really pay attention to portion size but I notice that it seems bigger every time we do.

  33. The worst part in restaurants is that eating half isn’t even safe, a friend who teaches nutrition told me that the average meal at olive garden is 6-8 servings of pasta. It has taken a while but I’m finally getting to where I can honor my own fullness, cutting carbs and eliminating sugar and adding good fats has helped tremendously with that.

  34. This is a multi layered issue. Many hunger for something that has nothing to do with eating and may not even know, connection,community,creativity………eating raises neurotransmitters, ironically the AAD (average American diet) does not nourish the brain as effectively and being really stuffed, even from junk food, calms the nervous system. Our culture has a persistent misconception regarding lack, cemented by advertising. We want a lot for our money…..And people do not know how to make food taste good if they have not learned to cook! And many people do not know how to season food well. Plain brown rice is not so yummy. Add some ginger and soy sauce or garlic and onion and yum, yum, yum……it is ironic that something as simple as nourishing ourselves has become a crises, the simple act of eating well is a grave concern.

  35. A good friend told me: What would you do with the extra food on your plate? Eat it just to clean your plate? Or throw it in the garbage? Why would you want to treat your body like garbage? Makes us really think about the amount of food we eat and how we are treating ourselves. (BTW, we now save very small bites of food – like 1/4 of a chicken breast or two slices of cucumber – and put them together with other “small” bites for snacks or lunch. We do not throw out much food!)

  36. I just started participating in a program called The Light Weigh” it is by Suzanne Fowler. wwwlightweigh.com Its a catholic program but the main point for weight loss is portion size. I hear there are similar programs to teach us how to feel the natural signals our bodies are currently ignoring, some religious some not.

  37. Yep, it’s definitely affected me over the years. I get frustrated if there’s not enough food to either pack myself with or to bring home for lunch the next day. As I explore healthier options, I find the better and more high quality the food, the smaller the portions. SLOOOOOOWWWWWLY I’m becoming OK with this…

  38. There is a chain restaurant here called Claim Jumper. I have never eaten there because whenever anyone I know talks about their experience at that restaurant, all they describe are the huge portions that they offer there. I have yet to hear of one person describe the taste of the food. It puzzles me that people would go to a restaurant for the portions sizes and not the taste.

    I agree that our food portions are way out of control – Bagels are another example. Has anyone purchased a bagel recently? Even the healthy ones are about twice as big as what they used to be. Since I became aware of portion sizes, I usually eat about half a bagel now and that’s plenty for me.

    1. I recently met my girlfriends who wanted to meet at Claim Jumper and decided to check out the nutritional values before I went so I could be mindful of what I was eating. I don’t even count calories, but there was virtually nothing in an acceptable calorie range. It was depressing. And those calories are probably so high because the portions are huge and unhealthy. I had such a stomach ache after eating there. Feel queasy just thinking about it.

    2. The food is very tasty, but the portions are what people go for. Its a group dinner, its fun and its interesting. Where else can you get a slice of cake that is the size of a small mountain? Its not intended for one person, its a group thing.

  39. Yep, so true. The best thing I do is to serve myself a small portion to begin with. If I am truly hungry when I finish that, then I can serve myself more. But I also force myself to finish all my vegetables and everything first before I go back for a second of starches or proteins or whatever.

  40. When I was living in another country I was surprised to see that people always left a little bit of food on their plate. I was told that if you ate everything you were still hungry and wanted more. It was also different in that everyone was served the same portion-no American style of serving plates on the table.

  41. I live in Belgium and portion size at McDonald’s are different. It is more expensive and not fast food the way we Americans know it. For anyone who is interested in French macarons, they are served with the coffee at McDonald’s ;-) Anyway, Pizza Hut portion sizes are also different. The kid size pizza in American is a regular size pizza in Europe. Much more expensive than in the US.

    As for non-American restaurants, the restaurants we go to serve the same size entrees, but do not offer other stuff. If we order spaghetti bolognese, all we get is an extra little cup of cheese. That’s it. We don’t even need a salad with dressing or bread. The entree is plenty.

    Another thing, when we go out and have a beer, we get a tiny cup of peanuts or other snack for free. Not a big bowl of snacks.

    There is much less emphasis on snacking and juice for kids in Europe. The baby food section is also very tiny. If anyone is curious, true to Belgian form, there are only 2-3 baby cereals and one is chocolate baby cereal and the box says for babies 8 months +. Children here are also likely to eat bread with chocolate spread in the morning. Brand competition is very little here, so that also helps, but it’s not necessary. We don’t need any more than those outer aisles of the store with the fresh stuff.

    1. And it is really sad that all those processed choices are made by a handful of companies just with different packaging.

  42. I am so tired of hearing people bash “clean your plate”. There is nothing wrong with teaching children to not put more on their plate than they will eat. They can always go back for more if they’re still hungry, but who wants to eat that food after it’s been on a kid’s plate? By telling them to leave food on their plate, we are teaching them to be wasteful. There are still adults and children, even in this country (USA), who do not have enuff to eat. I just can’t get on the “waste good food” bandwagon!

    1. Debbe – In our house we start with small portions and then go back for seconds (or thirds if need be) until we are full. But surprisingly after eating that first small portion we are usually content. We don’t enforce the “clean your plate” rule, but due to the above practice there’s seldom any food wasted. And thanks to the composter we got as a gift, even that ends up in the garden.

    2. You are right, it shouldn’t be bashing “clean your plate” but rather starting out with “serve yourself small portions, eat until you are full, then stop whether or not you ate all the food on your plate”.

  43. I once saw a fast-food commercial advertise a combo meal that included a very large soda, very large fries, oversize burger, and two deep fried tacos for a very low price. I think part of the problem is that it is seen as economical to purchase large portions of food, in the sense of “look how far I can stretch this dollar.” Quantity and convenience have trumped quality. Also, not finishing food is thought of as wasting it. My old home ec teacher used to say that overeating was a waste of food. I believe industry and advertising has really had an enormous influence on the cultural mindset when it comes to food consumption.

  44. I’m so thankful that my mom learned when I was a kid that forcing a clean plate would lead to bad eating habits! Everyone always teases me about how little I eat. I honestly feel sick if I eat more! It’s because I never got into the habit of over-stuffing myself! If I eat fast food, I get kid size or order from the dollar menu. If I’m at a restaurant, one “serving” will usually make 2-3 meals for me.

  45. Great post. When I moved to the US from India, I was surprised at the portion sizes in restaurants. Most entrees would end up being two meals for me. Over the years I have grown accustomed to the bigger portions now, but I still end up taking a little bit to go when I eat out.

  46. I worry about portion control with my kids. At home we avoid snacking in-between meals, so my children are usually pretty hungry at dinner time. I make most everything from scratch and we are all healthy eaters with healthy weights, but After extensive reading, I am conscious about us having too much sugar, wheat, fruit(high glycemic index), and cheese. Also beans (red, black, pinto, etc.) for bathroom reasons.

    A typical meal for us in main dish, 2 vegetables, 1 fruit and milk. So for instance if the meal is homemade whole wheat mac and cheese, I worry when my kids ask for seconds on mac and cheese or fruit. Naturally, I tell them to finish their milk first, then I offer another vegetable, but they don’t always go for that. How much food is too much? Last night it was chicken fajitas. My 6 year old ate a fajita with chicken, green peppers and cheese, and also had black beans, cucumbers, homemade refrigerator pickles (request), apple slices and a glass of milk. My 3 year old ate the same except she had yogurt (plain) instead of pickles. Then both asked for another fajita. I managed to pacify them with some walnuts and would have been fine giving them more veggies. But my husband and I ate 2 fajitas, it seemed a bit much for a 3 year old.

    1. Read the books by Ellyn Satter. Research has shown that children whose sence of fullness hasn’t been screwed with will eat exactly what they need. If they are given a meal with extra calories/fat added or the exact meal with some calories/fat removed, the child will eat less or more relatively. If you are too controlling about the food, your children will grow up with food issues and possible become overweight. If you offer a variety of nutricious food and let your child choose how much of what then they will be fine, and over time they will eat a very balanced diet (even if each meal isn’t balanced). Some days my 3 yr old will eat as much (or more) as us adults, other day he seems to eat nothing. It all balances out.

    2. Kristin, in my experience kids have a very good sense of how much to eat, and (in contrast to adults) they also rarely overeat. However, parents have to let them keep and develop their naturally good eating habits. In your case, I think less micro-managing would be better. As long as you are offering a healthy selection of foods (which you do), there is nothing wrong about letting your kids pick what and how much they want. I don’t think there is something like an ideal portion size for young kids. Kids’ portion sizes are fluctuating a lot from kid to kid and also from day to day. It is very normal, that little kids eat adult size portions the one day and barely anything the other day. It is also normal, that kids might eat vegetables only the one day and meat only the other day. I think, it is very important as a parent not to disrupt those fluctuations. Meals should primarily be about enjoying good food and conversation. How can a kid enjoy his/her meals and develop healthy eating habits, if (s)he is constantly under the radar and told to eat more or less or something else than (s)he is craving for?

  47. That is so interesting about being full on less. My husband and I just started in January eating real non-processed food and the first thing we noticed was that we got full quicker. I was surprised and delighted. I’m still working on the portion control but making improvements everyday. Thanks for your blog!

  48. I often find myself challenged and hesitating when it comes to portion sizes for my 75 pound, 56 inch tall 8 year old and my 39.8 pound 47 inch tall 6 year old. If I follow the “palm” size rule for my 6 year old for protein that just doesn’t seem like enough for a child who literally bounces, skips and hops through her day. Common sense prevails when it comes to desserts and treats.

  49. Hold both hands together to form a bowl shape. That is the amount you should eat, at any one time, the amount of food you can hold in your cupped hands. This seems to make sense, as everyone has a different size “bowl” that correlates to their body size.

  50. Growing up, my parents taught us to “clean our plates” which I don’t necessarily think is a bad principle if the plate sizes and portion sizes were normal. The plate and portion sizes have gotten so big that in order to eat everything on your plate you have to eat way more than you need.

    It has been really, really hard for me to get out of the mindset of cleaning my plate so I eat on salad plates that are a little bit larger than a saucer. I don’t feel like I’m being deprived since my plate looks full and I can finish everything on my plate without eating more than I need to.

    I personally think the problem is the refined sugar or at least that is where I think the problem started. I was reading on another blog that in 1800 the average American ate 4 pounds of sugar per year; in 2011-150 pounds. Sugar is in almost everything that a typical average American eats. It is highly addictive and doesn’t fill you up, making people eat more than they need to.

  51. #1 Totally agree with you!
    #2 Our local club store (BJ’s) has started carrying a ton of organics because people started asking for it. So ask!
    #3 Changing the size of the plates makes a huge difference. I switched our house to our “luncheon” sized plates and my husband didn’t even notice, but lost several pounds in a couple weeks. It’s a visual thing, and I will always eat less with a smaller plate.
    #4 A previous comment mentioned not putting the food on the table family style. My husband has suggested this, but I don’t think it will help my kids learn to control their own portions. I want them to see the food, have some guidance to listen to their bodies, and know when to stop even when they are still looking at more food on the table.
    #5 For the previous post who wants to know how to help her husband – why not get him to start reading things like this with you?

  52. I used to finish every bite of food on my plate because I didn’t want to waste food. Eventually I realized that I didn’t have to force myself eat every bite right now if I was full . . . it is OK to put it in a container in the fridge for later even if it is just a few bites. Now it seems so silly that I used to force myself to eat more than I really wanted to avoid wasting food. Later if I am hungry and need a small snack I just finish up the leftovers from the fridge. Duh! :)

    1. My best friend, her husband and I used to go out for dinner all the time. I could never understand why she ate SOOOOOO slowly and why she would leave 2 or 3 bites on her plate to take home. It seemed so silly. It’s not like the portions were so big that she couldn’t finish 2 or 3 more bites – I mean, I managed to clean my plate so why couldn’t she? I get it now, though. If you are full then stop. Period. If you feel a little hungry in a couple hours then finish the 2 or 3 bites as a snack. Why was that so hard for me to understand before?

      It’s really hard for me to not clear my plate. My fiancé made a HUGE salad for both of us last night (because how can a big salad be bad?!) and we both struggled to finish it…but we did. But we also decided to never make that big of a salad again. “Next time we’ll use the smaller white bowl instead of the big silver one.” It’s a slow process, but we’re working on it!

  53. I agree! Portion sizes are crazy huge these days! I (almost) never finish my plate at a restaurant. I look at it as getting 2 (or 3) meals for the price of one. The portions are way too big and there’s no shame in taking that doggie bag home! It’s hard to retrain yourself to think about what you’re eating and think about being comfortably full and that’s when you stop. We’re so used to cleaning our plates (“There are starving children in Africa, clean your plate…don’t waste food!” Anyone else used to hearing that?) or simply stopping when the food is gone.
    Another tip is to drink a full glass of water before eating a meal! That way you feel fuller faster. It’s especially a good idea in a restaurant.

  54. Do you know how they got their “average” portion sizes? Is this all restaurants or what they find people serve themselves at home? It is just I find it hard to believe the “average” soda size is 42 oz. sure some people drink that but I highly doubt it is the average because neither sit down or fast food restaurants serve their “regular” drinks in that size. Maybe if someone goes to a restaurant and gets 3 refills while they are there it ends up being 42 oz? That’s the only way I can think of where that would become the “average”. I believe it about burgers and fries though. At restaurants, my husband and I always eat just half our entree and sometimes all the veggies depending on the meal. And at home we almost always eat off of the smaller plates. I think there has also been a study done on how much bigger dinner plates have gotten too, obv to accommodate these bigger portion sizes.

    1. I used to work at a fast food restaurant, and my experience there was that people rarely ordered anything but our largest sized drink, which happened to be 44oz. you get more bang for your buck that way so it entices the masses. the only time anyone wanted a small size was for their very small children.

    2. I think the bigger portion sizes are due to the percieved value that Americans need. Food preparation is expensive -and geting more so, but it doesn’t cost much more to make a little more. So, instead of a 3 oz fries for a buck, we get a 6 oz fries for $1.25 – feels like a better value, doesn’t it :-). Also, I too worked in a few resurants/delis. Multiple refils or the largest size of soda (esp. if it is priced cheeper than the next smaller size) is the norm.

  55. I’ve tried to be mindful of portion control for the past few years. I always eat on a salad-size plate when possible – that way the empty space doesn’t scream to be filled! Also, if I am still hungry, I can go back for seconds and it’s ok. I’ve even gotten my husband used to eating like this which is great!

    I think the size of dinnerware has increased over the years too. I’m pretty sure the set we got for our wedding has bigger plates than my parents plates … and our bowels are astronomically bigger! I can’t even imagine trying to fill them. When guests are over I always tell them that I’m only going to fill their bowl 1/3 of the way full because the bowl is so big, but if they need seconds they can get them. … Folks don’t usually go for seconds!

    Also, I noticed our set didn’t come with saucers, but they did come HUGE mugs. It’s really sad. We got the set because it’s the only one my husband and I both liked the style on, but we didn’t realize just how big everything was till we opened up the package.

  56. Excellent post—and, certainly speaks to some of the same issues presented by Mireille Guiliano in her book French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. This is a great read and really puts into perspective the great points you have made here about the cultural differences in the way the French and Americans view food and slowly enjoying each mouthful & meal!

  57. Great article and so true. I stop eating when I feel full and I have been eating that way for years. My husband is a “clean your plate” guy and his portions are huge. I am working on it. I dish out the serving so I can give him less and if he’s still hungry he can get more. Although I notice the more “real” the food is the less he goes back for seconds.

  58. Great post and one I need to work on! We recently got a bread-maker and it has really emphasized portion control for us. Our sandwiches are so much smaller now and incredibly more filling!

    We started trying to eat this way a few years back and I am so grateful that I found you. Your recipes are fabulous and exactly what I have been looking for!

    1. I agree about the bread! I’ve been making our bread for a few months now and we absolutely love it! The sandwiches are smaller but I always feel just as full as if I had a full sized sandwich with store bought bread. It really proves that portion size and the type of food makes an impact! With bigger bread, you add more cheese and more mayo and more meat…all unnecessary. Plus, the bread I make is whole wheat so because it’s whole grains, its more filling and better for us!

    2. I started making my own bread last year after reading a recipe on this site (thanks Lisa!) and now I can’t go back. One week I was pressed for time so I didn’t get a chance to make bread, but I will NEVER do that again. The store bought, whole-wheat loaf that we used to buy all the time was disgusting! It tasted like cardboard after getting used to the home made bread! In fact, while I was at my parent’s house for Christmas I made my bread for them…and now my mom started making it! She noticed an immediate difference and wants to start making home made bread, too.

  59. Great article! I am a Weight Watchers leader and work with clients all the time on how to adjust their portion sizes and how to stop eating when they feel full. It’s difficult to get out of the “cleaning your plate” mind-set. The bottom line is most folks need to start weighing and measuring their food until they can eyeball an accurate portion. I wanted to point out that the actual rate of overweight and obese people in the United States is close to 70 percent. (Not one-third as you state in your article) If you look at the cdc data, right now 35 percent of us are “obese” and 68 percent of us are overweight or obese. Shocking!

    1. Unfortunately, I am one of those “obese” in your 70% statistic, which uses BMI. I wear a size 8, but my BMI is 29. Larger bone structure, weight lifting for more muscle mass make me “obese” in the eyes of those that follow BMI.

      1. My husband had a health screening at work a month ago. They told him he was obese with a BMI of over 30. He is a weight lifter so the bulk of his excess weight is muscle mass, not fat. The people who performed these screenings weren’t measuring body fat; they took height, weight, age and sex only when making their calculations. Anyone with sight can see that my husband isn’t obese, far from it. But this is how they were trained to gather their information. I wonder if people like my husband are screened out of the obseity statistics.

  60. 100% agree with this post! I use My Calorie Counter not to count the calories, but to keep my portion-sizes in check. It works wonders! Also, you are 100% correct about real food being more filling. I feel the same way. Our food intake is a lot less when we have real food vs. processed food. It blows my mind!

    I know when I started paying attention to portion sizes and went somewhere to eat with those who didn’t, I was blown away buy how much the other people were eating. It made my belly ache! They told me I was eating like a bird, but I was eating a proper portion! *sighs* Oh, well. I can’t let other people’s ignorance or denial make me do things that I know aren’t right for me. To each his own, right? Anyway, thanks for sharing this!

  61. I’m in Texas and we have a local store here called HEB…they had a few organics and real food when I first started eating this way about a yr ago….but not enough…everytime I went shopping and the cashier asked if id found everything I would say no you don’t have enough organics…then id list a few things I was having to buy elsewhere and let them know I was going somewhere else! I can now get grass fed beef organic chicken…organic cans goods fresh produce…milk..cheese…cereal…crackers….and even frozen waffles I rarely make the hour trek to whole foods anymore and if I do its usually a special item….they are listening it took a yr bit I even found coupons for organic veggies and get organic rice free the other day!

    1. Wow good for you Jaci for giving them that feedback… without people like you speaking up nothing will ever change (for the better)! :)

  62. We have “company dishes” that are used for special occasions… a set of blue willowware that I’ve been assembling over the years, and some rose bud plates as well. They are literally half the size of our “regular” dinner plates. The willowware dinner plates are only a smidgeon bigger than the sandwich/appy plates we use on a daily basis!

    Portion control is my single biggest issue. I eat too much. Most of what we eat nowadays would come under the “real food” banner, and I’m proud of that. But I eat WAY too much. I’ve taken to asking people to put the serving dishes on the other end of the table after I’m served, so that I can’t get at them for seconds (or thirds!). Last night I did pretty well, having home-made ham soup with plenty of legumes in it, and I had a single bowl. It was large, but it was filling. I had two slices of fresh bread on the side, with butter. That was it. That was … right. :)

  63. I still struggle a bit with the “clean plate” mentality – so in order to fix that, I just make sure not to overload our plates. And if my child tells me she is “full” I do not make her finish her food. It’s hard because I was raised with the idea that not finishing your food was wasteful.

    1. I’m in the same boat. I’m trying to teach my kids that it is OK not to clean your plate and to stop when you feel full while I struggle with the concept myself. It is especially hard because my husband is still very much into the idea that not eating all of your food is wasteful and ungrateful. An, the joys of marriage and parenting…

  64. First, check your local store completely. If there is a particular item you want, the manager might be able to order it for you in bulk or they might just start carrying it regularly.

    Second, check Amazon. You can get some great prices on organic and real foods (not meat or produce) if you watch the deals. Plus if you choose “Subscribe & Save” shipping is free.

    Third, find local sources for meats and produce. The more rural you are, I bet the better your chances are of finding a good source. Check Eat Wild to start, but asking around at a farmer’s market might be your best bet.

  65. I have two sets of dishes and both are about 10 1/2″ in diameter. Both also have a 1 1/2 to 2-inch raised border. I keep the food in the middle, where it’s 6 or 7 inches. Rarely does food creep to the raised edge.

    The piece of dinnerware that drives me crazy is cereal/soup bowls. They’re huge. I haven’t measured, but I think most will hold nearly 4 cups of food, which is way too much. I have some rice bowls that I bought years ago and I use them for soup and cereal. They hold about 1 1/2 cups and that’s a decent portion.

    About cleaning my plate…I have less problem leaving half of what is on my plate than I do leaving a bite or two.

    One thing I found after switching to real food is that it doesn’t take nearly as much food to satisfy me. Portion sizes started to shrink without me giving it much thought.

  66. Someone I know moved into a house built in the 1930s. His dinner plates wouldn’t fit into the kitchen cabinets. It took a while to figure out that plates are just bigger these days.
    I bought new plates in 1985. Then upgraded in 2009. The new ones are at least a full third larger, and are dished. So they hold more than twice as much food. It’s insidious. And disturbing.

  67. I love having data like this- the size of this has doubled in X number of years, etc. It helps when people say how they grew up eating it and they are just fine. Not to mention how the quality of food and ingredients has deteriorated over time. It’s almost not possible to say we grew up on food like this, since they keep finding cheaper, un-healthier ways to make food.

  68. We live in Asia, where portion sizes are much smaller than to the US. Here in Asia, I consider it overeating when I order a starter, entree, AND dessert, but I can almost always physically finish all three portions. Not so in the US. It’s always a shock to us on our trips back to the US in the summer to see how much food we’re served in restaurants. At times it’s almost revolting. I remember a meal at one of the nicer sit-downs restaurants at Disney World when we ordered a regular pasta dish for our son (not off the kid’s menu). I’m not exaggerating when I say that they served him well over a pound pasta in an enormous bowl. Our family of four couldn’t finish the entire dish, let alone what else we ordered. In the past year, we’ve made the conscious decision to eat out a lot less because eating out, even in Asia, means eating a lot more fat, salt, and sugar than we feel is really healthy. At home, I find it easier to control my portion sizes by doing as everyone suggests – doling out small initial portions on small plates/bowls and only going back if I’m still hungry.

  69. This whole portion control and slow eating thing is, of course, why my husband is gaining and I’m losing weight. He scarfs down 3-4 servings of a meal while I’m slowly eating my one serving. Anyone have any suggestions on how to get him to slow down and eat less?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Tara. I think you have to just keep reminding him and doing what you’re doing. He ultimately has to realize it for himself and listen to his own internal cues. Jill

    2. Tara, can you pre-plate your husband’s food and put the rest away in storage containers and into the fridge before you serve it. Leave a nice bowl of fruit or tray of veggies where the extra food usually is. This is working out for our house. I pre plate everyone’s food and put the rest into containers for lunch and I put sticky notes on them that say Dad’s lunch, Kid’s lunch, etc. If anyone is still hungry there is always fruits and veggies available. Keep in mind that most guys require more protein than us girls when making his plate.

  70. So true! I used to over eat all the time, just because the food tasted good and/or it was the communal thing to do. But overeating only makes you feel bad. It’s atrocious to me how large our “normal” serving sizes are and “no wonder” most of america is over weight. And yes, it can be hard to shift from over eating to eating or until you’re satiated/full, but once you get used to “new” portion sizes, you realize that’s all the food you really needed anyway. Especially because so many people who count calories, base their intake off of a 2000 calorie diet. But if you really research it, your calorie intake should be based on your age, gender, height, weight, activity level and overall health. So please be mindful before you eat! Just as much as real food is good for you and will nourish you, too much good food can hurt too.

  71. One of the important points mentioned in the book Lisa references is to eat mindfully. Give yourself plenty of time, take smaller bites, chew a lot, and really try to taste the flavors and feel the texture of the food. Take a break in between bites. When you eat slowly and chew, you will eat less because you’re giving your brain’s “full response” time to catch up with your stomach.

    When I’m stressed for time and starving, I tend to shovel it into my mouth worried that I won’t have time to finish and I’ll leave the table unsatisfied. I regret it every time I do this. I end up eating way more than I should and pay for it later with that uncomfortable, bloated stomach and walking around the house with my jeans unbuttoned. Or unbuttoning isn’t enough and I have to change into yoga pants.

    I was also raised with the clean-your-plate philosophy so there is some guilt associated with throwing away perfectly good food. There isn’t usually enough left on my plate to bother putting it away for leftovers so in the trash it goes. But this is happening less as I learn to take smaller portions to begin with. I’m trying to teach myself that it is better to waste a small amount of food than make myself sick & fat. It’s a hard lesson for a person raised in a poor family.

    I’m stunned by the portion sizes given in restaurants. I can usually get two meals out it. I ordered an omelette a couple of weeks ago that was the size of a football. When I ordered nachos last time, the plate must have weighed 5 pounds – my husband and I burst into laughter when the server brought the plate. I would like to tell all restaurants that I would happily pay a little more money for a smaller amount of high quality real food than pay pennies for a mountain of crap that I won’t finish.

  72. I didn’t comment but I was one of those people who thought that would never be enough food for me personally but I am also trying to gain weight and while nursing. I overeat intentionally. It doesn’t always feel comfortable but it is needed in my situation. I find it very hard to gain weight eating real food.

  73. This post was ironic because I just finished viewing the lunch and dinners that you all had documented for a week…and I thought that didn’t look like much food too. But I do understand how hard it is to gain control over portion size! I had to eat small frequent meals while I was pregnant, and portion size was the hardest thing to overcome. The hyperinsulinemia that I had while pregnant resolved itself and I went back to the super-size way of life. Thanks for sharing and motivating! I currently on day 8 of the 10 day challenge…any suggestions on nighttime snacks? And I diddo the first post…the nearest TraderJoe’s and Whole Foods is 2.5 hours away!

  74. Where do you find baked pita chips? Any brand better then another? I love homemade hummus, but aside from veggies and on bread with slices of avocado, I don’t know what to do with it.

    1. I actually buy whole wheat pita bread (medium sized) from trader joe’s and make my own. Simply cut the bread into 6 triangles, brush with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and bake at 400 for 10 minutes. My kindergartener takes pita chips and humus to school for lunch once a week, so I freeze hums in ice cube trays, then defrost 2 humus cubes and bake up 1 pita from the freezer the night before.

    2. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Dara. I actually use the Trader Joe’s whole wheat pita bread and bake that in the oven…I just spray it with some olive oil and then sprinkle it with garlic powder and sea salt. YUM! Jill

  75. You can find real food in regular supermarkets. You just have to be resourceful. But, to be honest, most mainstream grocery stores do not carry meat that is humanely raised or processed. You will not find grass-fed beef at Kroger. They are starting to carry some cage-free chicken, but it’s outrageously expensive, even more expensive than Whole Foods. If you can’t get meat from a farmer’s market, and there aren’t stores like Whole Foods or Earth Fare where you are, you may be unable to get acceptable meat (acceptable when eating “real food”). But, you can usually find other things, like 100% whole wheat pasta, 100% whole wheat flour (then you can make your own bread which is actually really easy), of course fruits and veggies, real butter, cage free eggs, olive oil and other unrefined oils, and other staples for a real food kitchen. Non-homogenized milk is hard to come by (I haven’t found any in Philly yet) but organic is better than mainstream if you can’t get non-homogenized.

    this is a lifestyle, it takes time to transform and learn your best options when shopping. I’ve been eating like this for almost two years now (This website was my inspiration!) and it has changed our lives, but I am still learning new things all the time! Especially now that I have just moved 600 miles away from everything I ever knew. I have found my local Whole Foods! But still need to get to know farmer’s markets and stuff like that. It takes time and patience and the knowledge of people like Lisa :) Just keep pursuing the truth and it will set you free :)

  76. The leaving food on your plate problem can be simply solved by not putting so much on your plate to begin with…I’ve found that I rarely go back for more. I used to eat heaping bowls of cereal or oatmeal for breakfast and now 1/2 bowl is sometimes too much.

  77. This is a good post and I agree with a lot of what you’ve said.

    In the household I grew up in, you were told you had to finish all of the food on your plate before you could leave the table. So leaving any food on my plate at all makes me feel guilty, I often find it difficult to leave food on my plate even when I’m full.

  78. Good point, and great tips, Lisa! Cool visual too! Thinking about portion size is a good idea, and like you said, with whole/real foods, you’ll get full faster, STAY FULL LONGER, and miss those crazy ups and downs from added sugars. I really want to read that book about kids in France! So awesome that you have over 300,000 readers now! Congrats!

  79. I have also heard that you should not bring the serving platters to the table (family-style?) because it encourages everyone to get seconds, even if they aren’t really still hungry. (Instead, leave it back on the counter so you have to get up to get it!).

    And we do use appetizer plates at meals, but only because our dinner plates don’t fit in the dishwasher! ;)

  80. I’m with hillenmeyer on this. I love your site, but I’m very limited on where I can shop. I’m a teacher and my husband’s a drill sgt, I don’t have enough hours in my day to do the research necessary. Having some food ideas from Kroger or Walmart would be great. We are stationed in the middle of nowhere, with limited resources. I can’t wait to make these changes in our lifestyles.

  81. The other thing which has grown is the humble dinner plate! Today’s dinner plates are considerably larger than those produced 3 decades ago and of course that mean you need to pile in more food to fill ’em.

  82. This was a great post. My husband and I honeymooned in Paris and one of the first things we noticed were the smaller portions. Our dinners looked about a quarter of the size of the ones here in the US. When I first saw them, I thought it wasn’t enough food. Ha. We actually would clean our plates and we would feel satisfied. Not stuffed to the point of sickness, just satisfied. It was awesome. Here in America, we have been trained to think we HAVE to have huge portions.

  83. I like this. I also like having a salad or fruit first and even a glass of water (most of us are also dehydrated & mistake thirst to being hungry & eat when we should be hydrating) before the meal to help with feeling full. Thanks!

  84. I took a course somewhere along the way the explained portion size as what you could fit in your fist. I kept this in mind when preparing and serving my family.
    On another note, have you or your team ever considered shopping for your food at say Kroger, Walmart, Publix, etc. Some of your readers do not have access to the wonderful stores you reference. It would help if you could attack some other stores and guide us in our shopping.

    1. Lisa has posted entries about shopping at regular grocery stores, like Walmart or my beloved Kroger (I have moved where there are no Krogers!) It’s hard to find some stuff anywhere but Whole Foods or Earth Fare, or more favorably at farmers markets. When I was back in Cincinnati and had Kroger, I would get only what I couldn’t get at Kroger at Whole Foods. Meat, mostly. Meat, and bulk items like nuts and oats, etc. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find acceptable meat in mainstream grocery stores. It’s all about being as resourceful as possible when following a real food lifestyle. Whole Foods or Earth Fare is necessary for some things though.

      1. I’m in Raleigh so they may come your way if the lines do well here. We’ve had an organic produce section there for a while, & Applegate Farms deli meats and cheeses, so I was thrilled to see the additional Applegate Farms lines and the new grass-fed beef line. They also carry other RGBh-free cheeses in the deli section.

      2. I’m just up the road from you in Mooresville. Ours doesn’t have much organic produce (I’m not sure about meat), but it does have apples, celery, bananas and a few other organics. :)

        Our BJs also has some organic produce (great price on the carrots!) and lots of Applegate Farms.

        I’m going to have to remember to start mentioning the things that are missing at the checkout counter. Love that tip!!!

Comments are closed.