My favorite tips and tricks for portion control, whether you're cooking at home or eating out at a restaurant.
When I started my weight loss and healthy living journey, I knew that portion control was going to be a key part of changing my eating habits. My perspective on what was considered to be "one helping" was a little out of whack. "What do you mean I can't eat four heaping bowls of quinoa?! Quinoa's healthy, so what's the problem?" Yeah.
Of course, I didn't REALLY think it was okay to eat as much as my husband at dinnertime, then sneak into the fridge later for leftovers. I just didn't want to stop eating because I was bored, angry, happy...darn that emotional eating!
When I started tracking my meals and snacks on MyFitnessPal, I knew that it wasn't going to be pretty. The amount of cheese and crackers I typically grazed on for an afternoon "snack" took up nearly one-half of my allotted calories for the day. Even the healthy grains, such as brown rice, whole wheat couscous and quinoa, were consumed in portions much too big for one person, particularly a person who can barely reach the top shelf of the pantry.
Portion Control Tips & Tricks
How to measure portion sizes:
So, I started weighing and measuring, with the intention of eventually being able to "eyeball" the portions. Stashing a scale and measuring cup in my purse to take to dinner at our favorite restaurant wasn't exactly an option. People already think it’s odd when I snap pictures of the food. No need to give them more reasons to stare.
But how the heck was I going to "eyeball" four ounces of chicken or a half-cup of rice? The first thing I did was to pull out my handy OXO scale and measuring cups (more about those in the giveaway section), which I use for everything from measuring baking ingredients to weighing out meal portions. I began by weighing and measuring everything - not because I planned to do that forever, but because I wanted to familiarize myself with how a healthy portion looked.
After several times of measuring out 1 cup of spinach, ½ cup of brown rice and 2 ounces of turkey meat, I became comfortable with serving up these portions without always relying on the scale and measuring cups. I knew that a serving of leafy greens filled about three-quarters of our wooden salad bowls and a half-cup portion of berries perfectly lined the bottom of my cereal bowl. I still weigh and measure periodically to make sure that I am on track with my estimates. I also learned some little tricks.
Tricks for Estimating Portion Sizes
You may have heard some of these tricks before, but they deserve a mention because they really can be helpful when you are eating out, or you simply want to measure by sight rather than pulling out your scale. Here are some of my favorites:
1 serving of fruits or vegetables = size of a baseball (not a softball) or the size of a woman's fist
½ cup cooked or raw veggies = rounded handful
3 ounces of chicken or meat = size of a deck of cards or a standard bar of soap
1 small russet potato = size of a computer mouse
¼ cup dried fruit or nuts = size of a large egg
1 cup of cereal = size of a woman’s fist
1 ½ ounces cheese = 4 dice stacked together
Whether or not you want to record your meals and snacks for the long-term, I suggest tracking them for several days. It’s eye-opening and, quite frankly, a little shocking. At least it was for me. The beauty of an app such as MyFitnessPal is that it also breaks down your daily nutrient intake. I quickly learned that I was pathetically low on iron and potassium.
How to control your portions:
How many times have I eaten a snack straight from the bag while standing at the counter? I don’t even want to think about it. It’s that kind of mindless eating that got me in trouble in the first place. Here are some things that I tried to change. Believe me, I don’t do them all the time, but I figure “often” is better than “never”.
1. Sit down to eat. For some reason, standing to eat just leads me to eat more. Perhaps it’s because I’m standing near the source of the food.
2. Use smaller plates and bowls. If I put a portion of pasta in a large bowl, I feel cheated. It looks like a miniscule portion and I’m convinced that I should pile more in.
3. Step away from the phone, iPad, computer, TV or any other distractions. If I don’t think about eating, then the food is gone before I’ve ever had the chance to taste it.
4. Take a sip of water after every few bites. Not only does this help me stay hydrated and satiated, it also slows me down. Seriously, I can inhale a meal in five minutes flat if I don’t stop myself. Typically, it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain it’s full. Give it a chance to do so!
5. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. If I sit down to a meal when I’m famished, I’m more likely to chow down…quickly and alot. That’s why eating regular, healthy meals and snacks is really important.
I would love to hear some of your tricks and tips for portion control and conscious eating. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comment section.
My favorite tools for measuring portion sizes:
Food Scale with Pull-Out Display - This scale measure in grams and ounces, has a pull-out display so that you can place large bowls on the scale and "zeroes" the weight of the bowl so you get an accurate measurement of what's inside.
Stainless Steel Measuring Cups - Not only do I love the look of these measuring cups, but they are also very comfortable to hold.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by OXO and they supplied me with some OXO products for my personal use and the giveaway. All opinions are my own. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.