Food portions: what is normal?


Food portions – how much is enough and how much is too much? Do you need to count calories and if so, how do you do that? Sometimes, it can be impossible without a really good nutritional knowledge to really know how much calories you had for dinner or lunch. That’s why, this article’s aim is to teach you some really simple ways to know how much you should eat without passing the calorie intake normal limit.

As a first simple rule, the quantity of food in a normal meal plate should not be more than indicated on the picture below, according to each food group. Food portions such as a palm of meat with a fist of veggies or rice, very little fat and a slice of wholemeal bread are a normal size intake at any lunch or dinner. That will keep you also in the calorie limit recommended for a diet meant to keep you within your weight.

food portions

When eating out, the food portions are very often much larger that the recommended ones. The worse is that we get used to those sizes and we end up constantly overeating. And when we go for a normal portion at home, we feel like we didn’t eat enough. But what actually happened is that we have lost our ability to feel when we are not hungry anymore and stop eating, no matter how much is left on our plate. We don’t eat anymore based on our needs, but very often with the purpose to finish what we have in our plate.

Children up to 3 years old still have the ability to stop when they are full. But this ability is somehow lost after the age of 3. A study in the US served small, medium and large sizes to children aged 3 and 5. What happened is that the 3 years old children seemed to stop after eating the same quantity of food no matter the serving size, while the 5 years old ones ended up eating a lot more from the large size portion.


Food portions: calorie intake

The normal daily calories intake for an adult is of 2,500 Kcal for a man, to keep his weight. For a woman, that figure is around 2,000 Kcal a day. These limits may vary depending on how active you are, your age, size, health etc.

The daily calorie intake should be distributed through the 3 main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) with small snacks in between. The table below indicates a recommended calories distribution throughout these meals for men and women.

Meal Man Woman
Breakfast 400 – 500 Kcal 300 – 400 Kcal
Lunch 600 – 700 Kcal 500 – 600 Kcal
Dinner 600 – 700 Kcal 500 – 600 Kcal
Snacks x 3 200 – 250 x 3 = 600 – 750 Kcal 150 – 200 x 3 = 450 – 600 Kcal

If you don’t like to count calories, just use the food sizes indicated in the first part of the paragraph. Added, they count the calories recommended, as long as you eat them clean. Don’t add all sorts of sauces as they will make your calories intake spike easily much above the line.


Food portions in images

Just to give you a better idea on how much is normal, look at the pictures below that compare the food size we should consume with usual objects. I thought it’s a fun idea and maybe it’ll help you remember not to eat more than a tennis ball of pasta, for example.

food portions

The food subject is a complex one no matter where you start it – it’s complex because of such a food variety and an even greater variety of individuals and purposes. If we want to lose weight, our calorie intake should be less, and the foods we eat should be carefully selected. You simply won’t achieve the same results if you keep eating pasta and rice. A nutritionist will be able to give you a personalized plan on what to eat, how much and when. Losing weight is most efficient when following a plan that suits your body and metabolism.  

But this article’s purpose was to make you understand how normal food portion looks like and to become an educated eater. Remember finishing the food in your plate in a restaurant is not a good idea. And if the social pressure is there (in some culture it’s an insult to leave food on the plate), try and divide your portion with someone else at the table.

Hope this article is helpful, enjoy your food!!!


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