Servings & Portions


multicolored cups

Do you have to measure or weigh everything you eat? Not really. Some people find it helps to measure things carefully at first, but once you get used to your new eating plan, strict measuring probably won’t be necessary. But, what exactly is a serving? And is that different from a portion?

The word "serving" can have different meanings depending on how it is used. A Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Plan serving is how much of each food you should eat to meet the plan’s daily recommendation. (See below to learn more about serving sizes on the Nutrition Facts label).

The term "portion" means how much of a single food is actually on your dish—a portion size can vary from meal to meal. For example, one restaurant might serve larger portions than another.

Here are some pictures to help you understand about how much you are eating.

golf ball, deck of cards, and four dice
Two tablespoons cream cheese = golf ball Three ounces meat or poultry = deck of cards 1 to 1½ ounces cheese = four dice
pen and checkbook, baseball, and a hand
Three ounces grilled/baked fish = checkbook One cup cooked vegetables, salad, baked potato = baseball Three ounces of meat or poultry = palm of hand
bowl of popcorn

Here's a Tip


Snacks are okay, as long as they are smart food choices. If you want an afternoon pick-me-up or after-dinner snack, have a piece of fruit, or spread peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese on whole wheat toast. Don’t forget to include snacks in your daily food count. For example, one tablespoon of peanut butter spread on a slice of whole wheat toast counts toward the grains group and the protein foods group. Some ideas for healthy snacking include:

  • Have an ounce of cheese with some whole-grain crackers, a container of low-fat or fat-free yogurt, or some low-fat popcorn.
  • Put fruit instead of candy in the bowl on your coffee table.
  • Keep a container of cleaned, raw vegetables in the fridge.
  • If you want some chips or nuts, don’t eat from the bag. Count out a serving, and put the bag away.


Here are some more pictures to help you understand how much you are eating:

cupcake wrapper, hand with finger circled
Half cup fruit, beans, rice, noodles, or ice cream = cupcake wrapper, half of a baseball One teaspoon margarine or oil = tip of first finger
compact disc, egg
One pancake or tortilla = compact disc or DVD Quarter cup raisins = large egg


What's On Your Plate? is based on the nutrition recommendations for older adults in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).