Healthy Portion Tips for the Family

The average American restaurant serving size is double what it was 40 years ago. It’s no wonder that the bagels, pasta dishes and cheeseburgers of yesteryear would look like a child’s portion to most adults today.

But in reality, those servings were just about the amount of food we are supposed to be eating. It’s time for us to get away from the “more bang for your buck” food mentality and return to healthy portions that nourish and satisfy us. Here are some great healthy portion tips your whole family will find useful!

Why Healthy Portion Sizes Matter

Ideally, we should eat fresh, unprocessed foods for optimal health and nutrition. But even if we never touch junk food and “eat clean,” it is still possible to eat too much and gain weight. That is why healthy portion sizes matter – regardless of what you’re eating. They also help with the following:

  • They’re the key to losing weight and/or maintaining a healthy weight – It all comes down to calories. If you’re taking in more calories than you’re burning, you will gain weight. This remains true whether you’re eating pizza or quinoa. Learning what a healthy portion size actually looks like – for all foods – will help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • They help you eat more balanced meals – People who pay attention to portion sizes opt for more fruits vegetables on their plates, as these foods are quite filling. When we know that our food quantity is limited, we tend to naturally seek out the types of food that will best satisfy our hunger without going over our allotted portion size.
  • They can help reduce cravings and disrupt the “always hungry” cycle – When we consistently eat large portions of food, our appetite is always stimulated. This is especially true of processed foods heavy in fat, salt and sugar, which are designed by food manufacturers to spike cravings and make us eat more of them. By eating healthy portion sizes at our meals, we can break the cycle of overeating and constant hunger.

What Healthy Portions Look Like

Healthy portion sizes vary by a person’s age, height, weight, sex and activity level. Clearly, a six-foot-tall male in his 30s who lifts weights daily will need larger portions than a petite female in her 60s.

So what do healthy portion sizes look like for you? One very simple place to start is with your hand.

  • Palm is Protein: The size of the palm of your hand is equivalent to a serving of protein – meat, fish, poultry, legumes/beans, eggs, etc.
  • Thumb is Fats: Your thumb – from where the joint starts at your wrist up to the tip – denotes a serving of healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, olive oil, cheese, etc.
  • Cupped Hand is Carbs: Cup your palm. That shows you what a serving of carbohydrates should look like – preferably complex carbohydrates like fruits, whole grains, potatoes, etc.
  • Fist is Veggies: Ball up your fist, and you have one serving of veggies. Take your pick!

Experts recommend that most adults’ plates should contain the following at each meal:

  • 1 palm of protein
  • 1 thumb of fats
  • 1 cupped hand of carbs
  • 1-2 fists of veggies

For extremely active adults and athletes, the above portion sizes can be doubled.

Children follow different portion size guidelines depending on their stage of growth and development, activity level and appetite. It’s best to speak with your family doctor to determine what healthy portions sizes look like for your child.

It’s also a great idea to talk with your kids about learning how to identify their hunger and satiety signals, such as:

  • Listening to internal hunger and fullness cues. Chat about what it feels like to be hungry and how it feels to be full.
  • For older children, reviewing differences between physical hunger and boredom, sadness or fatigue. When kids listen to their bodies and emotions, they’re less likely to overeat.
  • Letting them know it is OK to stop eating when they feel full, even if there is food left on the plate.

How to Stick to Healthy Portion Sizes at Every Meal

Eating healthy portion sizes at every meal can be uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re used to eating more. You may be shocked at how little food this looks like when laid out on your plate. But your body will soon adjust, and you’ll begin to notice many positive results.

Here are some excellent tips to keep you motivated and make the transition to healthy portion sizes stick:

  • Eat slowly – It takes your brain 20 minutes to recognize you’re full. Most of us eat our meals in 5-10 minutes, which leaves us hankering for seconds (or thirds!). Forcing yourself to slow down and take 20-30 minutes to eat your meal gives you a chance to register that you’re getting full – and that your healthy portion size actually is enough to leave you satiated. Try putting your fork down between bites and taking a sip of water every 2-3 bites.
  • Eat to only 80% full – No matter what you choose to eat, leave a little bit of space in your stomach at every meal. This doesn’t mean starving yourself; it means eating until you are just no longer hungry. You should feel like you’re able to get up and move around, such as take a brisk walk, pretty easily. This habit takes a lot of practice – and will require some trial and error – but is well worth the great results.
  • Use a smaller plate – Switch to eating meals on a side dish rather than the standard 10”-12” dinner plate, which completely skews how much food we think we should be eating. In reality, to fill up one of those dinner plates, you’d need to pile on nearly twice the amount of food you actually need. Putting your healthy portion sizes on a small plate tricks your brain into feeling more satiated, as it sees a full plate of food.
  • Drink water while eating – Water has the double benefit of keeping you hydrated while filling up your stomach. Aim to drink one 16-ounce glass with each meal.
  • Know that your body will adjust – During the first couple days with healthy portions, you might feel like you’re eating the portion suited for a chipmunk. But after a short while, your body and appetite will adjust to the new amount of food. You’ll start to feel less bloated, less hungry and more energized – making you more likely to stick with healthy portion sizes for good!
  • Cut out excess sugar and salt – Excess sugar and salt in processed foods can spike your insulin levels and mess with your body’s satiety signals, making it more difficult to feel satisfied after finishing a meal. Preparing meals from scratch – even simple, quick ones like grilled chicken and veggies – cut down on the odds you’ll be craving more food later on.
  • Think of healthy portions as a lifestyle, not a diet – Diets are short-term weight loss regimens that usually make us feel deprived and miserable. No wonder they hardly ever work in the long run. But eating healthy portion sizes is a lifestyle, not a diet; it’s about long-term health. By consuming just the right amount of food to feel satisfied and not stuffed, you’ll maintain a healthier body weight while still enjoying all the foods you love in moderation.
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