Portion Control: the Weaning Process

by Laura on January 3, 2010

in Blog

Today I couldn’t stand the smell coming from the refrigerator any longer. Something lurking inside has been there for a long time. The culprit was rice. Actually, nine out of 10 times, rice is the culprit for the stink coming out of our refrigerator. The waste drives me crazy, but I just can’t seem to prepare the proper amount for dinner.

Our family isn’t into controlling portions for weight loss, but we do need to know how much is enough. So, I did a bit of investigation. A typical portion size for grains is one-half cup, or roughly a handful. But that would mean I’m making 3 cups of rice for a meal, and that, I know, is way too much for us. No doubt, following those guidelines would lead to a stinky fridge.

It is hard to figure out, especially when kids are involved. One day they love the rice, the next day they have no interest in eating it. For that reason, I am determined to use that rice in lunch and dinner leftovers before it goes bad.

As I think about portion sizes, I’m having the same problem with pasta, couscous, and other side dishes I make. I remember making a mac and cheese recipe found in a Mollie Katzen cookbook, and as I poured in the recommended amount of pasta, I realized, this just isn’t going to feed our family.  I immediately doubled the recipe, but it made me wonder, am I over feeding my family?

The correct portion size for pasta size is a half a cup, or roughly the size of a tennis ball. If I served a tennis-ball sized mound of pasta to my kids, I know that they’re going to ask for more (and, I’m assuming that this recommendation is for adults).

We all know that our portion sizes are askew. I’m not a big fast food eater, so I’ve learned about the portion size dilemma in more subtle ways – through travel to Europe. While some European restaurants may go overboard on theiramuse-bouche-sized portions, for the most part, the portion sizes are in line with the way they eat – small portions frequently throughout the day. Through work, I have also had the opportunity to eat in homes throughout Europe, and the overriding theme has been great-tasting homemade food, great company . . .  and, of course, reasonable portions (albeit, a million courses!).

I think it is time for me to wean my family of these American portion sizes and start thinking European. The Europeans ‘snack’ throughout the day, eating small portions, rather than one super-sized meal like we Americans often do. In my search for information, I continually came across this suggestion: Eat smaller snack-sized portions throughout the day, when you’re hungry, especially as it relates to children. I do that for the most part, but perhaps I should put a bit more focus on the kids’ snack-time, and ensure that they get something a bit more substantial each time. Maybe, then, that tennis-ball size of pasta will be just enough to fill their bellies at dinnertime.

I may not have a trip to Europe planned in the near future, but I’ll be dreaming of it every time I feed my family smaller portions. The benefit: My family will have a healthier relationship with food, and my refrigerator will smell much better.

Here is a quick look at normal portion sizes:

  • 1 oz. meat: size of a matchbox
  • 3 oz. meat: size of a deck of cards or bar of soap—the recommended portion for a meal
  • 8 oz. meat: size of a thin paperback book
  • 3 oz. fish: size of a checkbook
  • 1 oz. cheese: size of 4 dice
  • Medium potato: size of a computer mouse
  • 2 Tbs. peanut butter: size of a ping pong ball
  • 1/2 cup pasta: size of a tennis ball
  • Average bagel: size of a hockey puck.
  • Medium apple or orange: the size of a tennis ball
  • 1 cup chopped raw vegetables or fruit: baseball size
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (raisins, apricots, mango): a small handful
  • 1 cup of lettuce: four leaves
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