I vividly recall the first time I ever realized that ONE PINT of Haagen Daaz Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream was 4 servings!! I was a freshman in college diligently working my way towards that Freshman 15. A feat I accomplished with ease! When you're on your own for the first time you tend to go off the rails a bit since your exploring what life can be like with little to no parental boundaries. Now - I'm pretty tame in most aspects of my life - but we did fall into a fairly substantial pattern of making poor and yet voluminous food choices! Another "dinnertime" favorite was Icee's and boxes of Fortune Cookies from the 7-11 across from our apartment. Or - when we were being "healthy" we would eat the entire bag of Rold Gold Pretzels instead of Fortune Cookies. Sheesh!! Not only were these foods completely empty of any nutritional value - they contained like 6,8, or 10 servings each. But, at that time reading and deciphering food labels was not something we cared about nearly as much as when and where the next Frat party was.
So, if you've started the year off right by eating healthy and exercising more - but your still not losing the weight the reason might be as simple as portion control. Unfortunately, many of us don't have an accurate mental picture of what typical serving sizes really are. This is partly because the serving size on many food labels is anything but "typical". Just like the models we see on the runway - their bodies are not typical for most of us - and the amount of peanut butter most of us enjoy in one sitting doesn't match up with the 2 tablespoons listed on the label either!
Despite this confusion between the amount we eat IRL and the serving size listed on labels the truth is that portion control is essential to healthy eating and weight maintenance. Monitoring how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. And getting a handle on portion sizes makes it easy to choose wisely, enjoy a variety of foods and stay within healthy parameters.
Knowing that food labels can be misleading - you should always check to see how many portions make up one serving. It’s not uncommon for a packaged item, such as a protein cookie or muffin, to contain 250+ calories per serving and the package comprises 2 (or more) servings. So, while you might assume you can eat the entire cookie or muffin for 250+ calories – you might actually be eating TWO servings if you read the label closely. Now those two servings might fit perfectly into your eating plan for that day – but we just want you to decipher the label correctly so you can make choices based on accurate information.
Once you develop some mental images for portion size comparisons they become quite easy to remember and “eyeball”. Here are a few visual examples I've found helpful:
There are some super easy and fun ways to control portions using items you may already have in the kitchen. Perhaps the most under-utilized item is the muffin pan. Muffin pans are great for portion control and meal prepping! There are generally three different sizes to choose from: the standard; 12 cups with ½c capacity in each, the jumbo; 6 cups with 1c capacity in each and the mini; 24 cups with 2T capacity in each. They can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner and are the perfect size for snacks. Check out Pinterest for a WORLD of recipes to try or start with this one linked below. Its a great grab and go breakfast option that is EASY, FAST and highly CUSTOMIZABLE. I make this at least twice a month at my house.
Another fun item you may have hanging around your kitchen is the ice cube tray. Not many of us keep these around anymore- because our smart and fancy refrigerators have ice machines built right into them! But they’re easy to find at the dollar store and are a no-brainer way to portion and/or freeze smoothie starters, snacks, leftover herbs, bone broth and sauces. They are also great for storing and segregating small items like buttons, clips, earrings, etc. – but that’s a topic for another blog!
And lastly there's the good old measuring cup. For any pantry staples that I store in plastic storage containers I simply leave a 1/2 cup measuring cup in the container all the time. That way - when I do reach for the pasta, rice, quinoa, or cereal (my personal nemesis) I use the scoop already in there to portion our how much I need (notice I avoided the word want?) :-)
Check these sites out for more information on portion control and fun muffin size recipes:
If you've got friends with healthy goals why not share this post with them? And, as always, we'd love to hear your questions or comments on this (or any other) topic.