Estimate food portions with handy, everyday items

Experts recommend that people with diabetes or those trying to lose weight measure their portions so they know how much food they’re eating. Measuring cups and spoons aren’t always available. Here are some ways to estimate your portions.

Controlling portion size is important when you have a condition such as diabetes or are trying to lose weight. Measuring cups and spoons are the most accurate way to measure, but sometimes they just aren’t handy!

Several techniques can be used to estimate portions sizes when utensils aren’t available.

The first is visualization. If we can think about common items from our everyday lives, we can visualize approximately what a serving looks like:    

Tennis ball =   

Medium apple, orange, peach

Deck of cards =

Three ounce serving of meat, tofu

Compact disk (CD) =

The diameter of one pancake

Baseball =

Two servings of cooked rice, potato or pasta

Baseball =

1 cup salad greens

4 stacked regular size dice =

1.5 ounces cheese

1 dice =

1 teaspoon of butter, margarine, other spreads

Large egg =

1/4 cup raisins, dried fruit

Checkbook =

3 ounces grilled/baked fish

Ping-pong or golf ball =

2 tablespoons peanut butter, hummus

Poker chip =

1 Tablespoon of butter, margarine, salad dressing, mayonnaise, oil

Computer mouse =

baked potato

Visualization skills not the best? Another way to keep track is at the end of your arms!

  • On average, a woman’s palm is equal to about 1/2 cup of vegetables, cut-up fruit, rice, cooked cereal or a four ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish.
  • A woman’s tight fist equals about one serving of whole fruit, a cup of liquid, one cup of cooked vegetables, a baked potato, or a cup of cereal flakes.
  • A woman’s thumb is about the size of a tablespoon; the tip of the thumb to the first joint, a teaspoon.
  • One ounce is about the amount of nuts or small candies that a woman can hold in her hand.

These estimates can be helpful when dining out, but Michigan State University Extension says it’s a good idea to use measuring utensils at least once a week to make sure that portion sizes aren’t increasing over time.

How many servings of food should we have each day? The following chart is based on a daily 2,000 calorie diet:

Food

Servings a day

Examples of one serving

Grains

6-8

1 slice bread, 1 ounce dry cereal, 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, pasta

Vegetables

4-5

1 cup raw leafy, 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables

Fruits

4-5

1 medium, 1/4 cup dried, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned

Dairy

2-3

1 cup milk, yogurt, 1.5 ounces cheese

Protein

Less than 6 ounces

3 ounces cooked meat, tofu, grilled fish

Fats

2-3

1 teaspoon butter, margarine or oil, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, salad dressing, 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing

Nuts, seeds, legumes

4-5 a week

1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons seeds, 1/2 cup cooked dried beans

A portable serving size card can be found at the website of the National Institutes of Health Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

For more information on weight loss, nutrition, diabetes and other chronic conditions contact your local MSU Extension office.

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