Estimating Portion Size with Everyday Objects

Woman with bowl of strawberries

Did you know that you can move a long way towards winning the battle against weight gain by simply estimating portion size with everyday objects? While calorie counting and exercise are always important, portion control can help you slim down that waistline as well.

History Tells All

Take a trip back in time to the Depression era. Did people have to worry about overeating? For many, the answer is a resounding no! Fast food hadn't yet made its prominent appearance throughout the cities of America, and people were lucky to have enough to eat each day. With prosperity, however, came expanding girths. According to Let's, food portions are two to five times larger than serving sizes of the 1970's. Not only are the portion sizes generally larger, but most fast food restaurants offer super-size options. Many restaurants push these options as a good value for your money. We have been referred to as a super-size nation, and our waistlines give testament daily to that fact.

Understanding Serving Size

For many, the issue of serving size is a confusing one. With many people storing oversized plates, cups, and bowls in the kitchen cupboards, it's natural to confuse the reality of a serving size by thinking that one bowl of cereal equals one serving. This is where many people run into the problem of overeating without even realizing it! Proponents of the Weight Watchers program learn the ins and outs of portion control rather quickly. Many are a bit shocked at the amount of food they are allowed to have throughout the day. Portion control plays a big role in this popular diet, and there is a good reason why. You have to learn how to read labels in order to understand serving sizes, and estimating portion size with everyday objects is a simple way to help you watch what you put into your mouth.

Reading the Label

If you aren't familiar with reading the label on the foods you purchase, it's time you learn. Many people think if the outer wrapping proclaims phrases, such as low fat, and no trans fats, then the food is a good bet for your table. A good point to remember is to basically ignore the front of a package because it's there for one major reason-to get you to buy the product. Turn the package over, and read the label. That's where the important information is located.

  • Serving Size/Calories Per Serving-The food and nutrition label will give the recommended serving size (all of the other facts on the label are based around this serving size) and the amount of servings per the container.
  • Calories Per Serving-This will give the amount of calories in each recommended serving size.
  • Fat Calories-Since no more than 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat, you need to pay attention to this data.
  • Total Fat-This should include information on trans fats as well.
  • The % Daily Value-This is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet and shows how much of each nutrient is provided from this product.
  • Other Nutrients-Sodium, carbohydrates, and other nutrients are listed here.

Estimating Portion Size With Everyday Objects

Once you become familiar with estimating portion size with everyday objects, you'll never look at some objects the same again! It's easy to get started. Check out the following objects you can use in portion control.

Breads and Pastas

  • 1 cup of potatoes, rice, pasta = tennis ball, ice cream scoop
  • 1 pancake = compact disc (CD)
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice = full cupcake wrapper
  • 1 piece of cornbread = bar of soap
  • 1 slice of bread = audiocassette tape
  • 1 cup of pasta or cereal = fist
  • 2 cups of cooked pasta = full outstretched hand
Ice cream in bowl


  • 1 1/2 oz of cheese = 9-volt battery or 3 dominoes
  • 1 ounce of cheese = pair of dice, your thumb
  • 1 cup of ice cream = large scoop the size of a baseball


  • 1 cup of green salad = baseball, fist
  • 1 baked potato = fist
  • 3/4 cup tomato juice = small Styrofoam cup
  • 1/2 cup cooked broccoli = one light bulb
  • 1/2 cup serving = 6 asparagus spears, 7 or 8 baby carrots, 1 ear of corn on the cob


  • 1/2 cup grapes = light bulb
  • 1/2 cup of fresh fruit = 7 cotton balls
  • 1 medium size fruit = tennis ball
  • 1 cup of cut-up fruit = fist
  • 1/4 cup raisins = large egg

Meats and Proteins

  • 2 Tbsp of peanut butter = ping-pong ball
  • 1 tsp of peanut butter = fingertip
  • 1 Tbsp of peanut butter = thumb tip
  • 3 oz cooked meat, fish, poultry = deck of cards
  • 3 oz grilled/baked fish = checkbook
  • 3 oz cooked chicken = chicken leg and thigh or breast

Fats and Snacks

  • 1 tsp butter, margarine = size of a thumb tip
  • 2 Tbsp salad dressing = ping-pong ball
  • 1 oz of nuts or small candies = one handful
  • 1 oz of chips or pretzels = two handfuls
  • 1/2 cup of potato chips, crackers or popcorn = one man's handful
  • 1/3 cup of potato chips, crackers or popcorn = one woman's handful

More Information

Finally, the following information will help you determine what utensils to use when practicing portion control.

  • 1/2 cup = small fruit bowl, custard cup, mashed potato scoop
  • 1 1/2 cups = large cereal / soup bowl
  • 1 1/2 cups of pasta, noodles = dinner plate, not heaped
  • 1 cupped hand holds 2 Tbsp of liquid
  • 1 slice of bread is one ounce or 1 serving
Estimating Portion Size with Everyday Objects