March is National Nutrition Month®, a nutrition education campaign hosted every year by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. This year’s theme, “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” is a reminder that each of us has the power to make better food and beverage choices that add up to a healthier diet—one forkful at a time.
While you’ve probably heard a lot about what you should eat, the message of “eating one forkful at time” also highlights the importance of the amount of food we eat. In fact, how much we eat is one of the most important parts of building a healthy diet, and can affect your weight and risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Here are some simple portion control strategies you can put into practice at your next meal to make every bite count, whether you’re eating out or at home.
Let your plate be your guide: Visualize your plate in portions to help manage serving sizes as well as nutritional balance. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with a protein food (meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds) and the remaining one quarter with a grain-based food (bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal), preferably whole grains, and add a serving size of dairy (one cup of milk or yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of natural cheese) to complete your meal. Tip: for more information about food groups, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Give yourself a hand: Instead of weighing food on a kitchen scale, use your hand as a simple measurement of food portions. A serving of chicken, fish or beef is about the size and width of your palm. A serving of starchy carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes, cereal and rice is about the size of a clenched fist (about 1 cup). A serving of butter is half a thumb; for salad dressing or oil, a whole thumb (about 1 tablespoon); and peanut butter, 2 thumbs’ worth (about 2 tablespoons). A serving (one cup) of fruit or vegetables is about the size of a clenched fist. Tip: for personalized nutrition advice and meal planning, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).
Downsize at the diner: If you’re dining out, eating the right portion size can be tricky, as most entrées can serve 2-3 people. Plan to split an entrée with a friend, or cut your meal in half when it arrives and put one half in a to-go box before you start eating. If menu items are available in a variety of sizes, order the small size instead of a medium or large. Tip: choose a healthy appetizer or salad rather than an entrée.
Read the label: Many packaged foods actually contain multiple servings. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda contains 2.5 servings, and a 3-ounce bag of chips, 3 servings. To manage the amount of calories and nutrients from foods and beverages you eat each day, check the Nutrition Facts label for the number of servings in the container. Tip: purchase single-serving sizes of snack foods or pre-portion healthy snacks like nuts, fruits and veggies into single-serving bags for a sensible grab-and-go option.
To learn more about healthy eating every day of the year, visit Sodexo’s Mindful site.