Just Enough For You: What Is A Serving Size?

Chances are you’ve been served a plate of food at a restaurant with larger portions than you can finish. Portions of both food and drinks in restaurants have gotten larger year by year. There is a difference between portion and serving size. Portion size is the amount of food you decide to eat at one meal. Serving size is the amount of food listed on a nutrition facts label (1).

A serving size is a standardized way of measuring food based on nutritional needs. Imagine a small fist, baseball, hockey puck or a computer mouse (2). These are all ways to describe what a single “serving size” is. Knowing these comparisons will help you consume more foods you need and less of foods you don’t need.

Here are several examples of single serving sizes from each food group (2):

1. Grains:

  • ½ cup rice, pasta, cooked cereal

  • ½-¾ cup dry cereal  

2. Vegetables:

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions)

  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, arugula, mixed greens)

3. Fruits:

  • ½ cup canned, cut or cooked fruit

  • ½ cup fruit juice

  • 1 medium fruit (size of a baseball)

    • 1 apple, orange, banana

    • 2 kiwi, 2 tangerines

4. Protein: Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans & Nuts:

  • 3 oz cooked lean meat, poultry, fish (size of a computer mouse)

  • ½ cup cooked beans

  • 2 tbsp nut butter

  • 2 whole eggs

5. Dairy:   

  • 1 cup fat-free or low-fat milk/yogurt

  • 1 ½ oz fat-free or low-fat cheese

6. Fats

  • 1 tbsp oil

  • 1/5 avocado


Here is an example of a breakfast that includes 2 servings of grains and 1 serving of fruit, protein and dairy.

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal (2 servings grains)

  • 1 medium banana (1 serving fruit)

  • 2 boiled eggs (1 serving protein)

  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk (1 serving dairy)


These are standard amounts. Look at a nutrition label to accurately determine the serving size. Your age, physical activity level, and whether you are trying to lose, gain, or maintain your weight determines theestimated amount of calories you should eat a day. A typical 2000-calorie diet may have 6-8 servings grains, 4-5 vegetables/fruit, 2-3 dairy, 6 oz protein and 2-3 fats a day. It is important to pay attention to how much is one serving size, but you don’t need to limit yourself to just a single serving.

1. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/distortion.htm

2. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Replenish/WhatisaServing/What-is-a-Serving_UCM_301838_Article.jsp#.V4U8ppMrKfU

3. https://illuminatinghealth.com/serving-sizes/ (Image Source)