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Size Matters: Simple Tips for a Proper Portion

Cutting through quantity confusion with quality meal guidance

Americans are more attentive than ever about food and nutrition, questioning where and how their food is made and its impact on health. While many of us are trying to eat healthfully, we’re faced with the difficult task of navigating an environment that consistently promotes food quantity over food quality. The size of food portions and calorie contents have steadily increased in the U.S. over the past 50 years, and with that, we’ve also seen an alarming rise in the obesity rate. Could the two be connected?

They most certainly could. In fact, a 2014 report from the McKinsey Global Institute stated that reducing portions of packaged foods and fast food offerings could be the single most impactful way to combat today’s obesity epidemic. So, how can Americans cut through the confusion around portions and keep calorie intake in-check? As a registered dietitian nutritionist at Nestlé USA, here are my tips for identifying and enjoying proper portions of your favorite fare.

Smart-size your dishes and utensils.

An overwhelming amount of research has shown the size of our plates, bowls and utensils play a major role in the amount of food we consume. The larger your plate the more you serve yourself and, given our tendency to clear our plates, the more you eat.

Take a look at the size of the dishes and utensils in your kitchen. Perhaps you can put those over-sized, 14-inch diameter plates away and use your salad or dessert plates in their place. If your bowls and cups are extra-large, consider picking up some smaller options next time you’re at the store or shopping online.

When in doubt, measure it out!

When served a large portion, people tend to underestimate the amount of food and calories on their plate. Research shows that even trained nutrition professionals can have a hard time estimating the number of calories and fat in a meal. One solution: don’t be afraid to get out your measuring cups to see how much you’re actually serving up at mealtime. You can also measure the amount of food or beverage that your bowls and glasses hold in advance, for reference.

Easy solutions for meals eaten away from home.

Today, a single restaurant meal can easily bust your calorie budget for the day. When I go into restaurants or order take out, I often wrap up half of my meal for later, or I’ll share it with a family member or friend- This is also saves money! I also check to see if a smaller, ‘lunch size’ or half portion is offered on the menu.

One additional tip to remember when eating out — many restaurants have nutrition information available online or calories right on their menu. Use this to guide your meal choice and consider how a restaurant meal fits into your daily calorie needs!

Serving size ≠ recommended portion size.

Many consumers look at the Nutrition Facts label before placing an item in their grocery cart. But did you know that the serving size listed on the label is not a recommended portion? The serving size is the amount of a particular food typically consumed at a meal and is based on national dietary intake surveys. So it’s not the amount you should eat, it’s the average amount people do eat — which may be more or less than the best portion option.

Use the information on the Nutrition Facts panel — serving size, calories and nutrients — to determine the ideal portion for you or another family member.

Utilize Nestlé Portion Guidance™ tools on pack.

Since 97% of U.S. households purchase our products, we’re in a unique position to support healthy eating habits — including consumption of proper portions. The Nestlé Portion Guidance™ initiative aims to help make reasonable portions the easy choice for you and your family. Here’s a snapshot of what we’re doing:

  • We offer individually packaged products, making it simple on your end to enjoy a proper portion. A few individually packaged foods to look for next time you’re at the supermarket include Lean Cuisine, Lil’ Drums, Fun Size Butterfinger Bars, 8-ounce Nesquik Chocolate Milk and single serve portions of Coffee-mate Creamers.
  • We’re using pack forms and pack concepts to encourage reasonable portions. For example, we now offer several candy products like Sweetarts in re-sealable packages and savory foods such as Hot Pockets in individually wrapped packages so you can enjoy one portion and save additional portions for later. We’re also scoring our Nestlé Crunch Bar to help you gauge the right amount to break off at snack time. We are even exploring the addition of portion prompts and visuals on our multi-serve packaging (products like Stouffer’s Lasagna) to assist you in providing a reasonable portion for an adult or for a child.
  • We offer on-pack guidance through our Thoughtful Portion™ box within our Nutritional Compass® which is shown above and found on most of our products. The Thoughtful Portion™ box can be found on two-thirds of our foods and beverages. This tool provides a suggested portion and accompanying information that you won’t find within the Nutrition Facts label.

These are just a few simple steps you can take to choose more thoughtful portions and build awareness of the amount you’re eating at mealtime. Continue to keep your eye out for portion tools and tips from us as well!


1. Hiza HAB, Bente L, Fungwe T. Nutrient content of the US food supply, 2005. Home Economics Research Report №58. Washington DC: US Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, 2008.

2. Ford ES, Dietz WH. Trends in energy intake among adults in the United States: findings from NHANES. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97:848–853.

3. Dobbs R, Sawers C, Thompson F, et al. Overcoming obesity: an initial economic analysis. McKinsey Global Institute, Nov 2014.

4. Hollands G, Shemilt I, Marteau T, et al. Package or tableware size for changing selection and consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015;9. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011045.pub2.

5. Backstrand JR, Wootan MG, Young LR, et al. Fat chance: a survey of dietitians’ knowledge of the calories and fat in restaurant meals. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, Jan 1997.




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Carol Savage, MS, RDN

Carol Savage, MS, RDN

Nutrition, Health, & Wellness Manager & dietitian at @NestleUSA. Supports added sugar & saturated fat reduction, on-pack portion guidance & product innovation.

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