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Serving Sizes Simplified

I suffer from the all too familiar problem of finishing my plate when I am out to eat at a restaurant. That plate of penne alla vodka that I ordered seemed like a standard size; of course, I finish it all because it’s delicious, it’s there, and this must be the amount I should consume. Pushing my empty plate away, I am so stuffed that I unbutton the top button of my jeans, stand up and walk out of the restaurant, swearing that I won’t be hungry for another two days. In this typical scenario, I was fooled by the restaurant’s large portion sizes, and didn’t stop to think, “This is 5 times the amount of pasta I should be eating!” I am finally starting to realize that restaurants are there to feed you delicious food and not to regulate your portion sizes.
It seems that people are always telling us to control our portions. “Only eat one serving of this” or “eat half of a serving of that.” However, this gets confusing because most of us have no idea what actually constitutes a serving!
According to the USDA guidelines, you should eat the following servings each day to maintain a healthy and balanced diet:
Fruit: 2-4 servings
Vegetables: 3-5 servings
Low Fat Dairy/Milk: 2 to 3 servings
Protein: 2- 3 servings

Grain: 6-11 servings  (preferably whole grains)
Oils: use as sparingly as possible
Let’s be realistic; most people (especially college students) are not going to constantly measure our foods to make sure we are eating the right portions. Many of us don’t even own the correct measuring utensils. So, here’s a simple solution to roughly measure serving sizes using only your hand!
One serving of cheese = two fingers
One serving of meat = open palm
One serving of vegetables = two open hands
One serving of grain (rice or pasta) = closed fist
One serving of fruit = closed fist
One serving of oil or salad dressing = tip of thumb
The last thing to take into consideration is, obviously, how big or how small your hands are compared to most. Measuring with your hand is only meant to be a rough approximation, although these measurements are based on an average sized woman’s hand. These estimates should help put into perspective how much we tend to overeat, especially when dining out.
If you realize that the hefty piece steak on your plate at your favorite restaurant is two (or maybe even three) times the size of your own palm, this probably is not the best time to be part of the “clean plate club.” Instead, try splitting your massive piece of meat with your friend, or eat half and take the other half home for leftovers!
If you want to get as accurate as possible, try to first compare your hand to standard items such as a deck of cards or a baseball.  Print out this PDF provided by the USDA for more accurate size outlines of food servings: http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/Resources/nibbles/pyramid_servings.pdf
And here are some photos you can use as a frame of reference:
 Photo Credit: http://www.manitobahealthyliving.ca/keeping-portion-size-under-control

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