Serving Size vs. Portion Size: Is There a Difference?

Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
measuring tape on a fork

Healthy eating includes making healthful food choices, which means knowing what and how much you eat. Do you know the difference between serving and portion sizes? While the terms serving and portion often are used interchangeably, they actually mean different things.

A "serving" is the amount of food recommended in consumer education materials such as MyPlate. A "portion" is the amount of a food you choose to eat at any one time — which may be more or less than a serving.

Here are some everyday comparisons to help you figure out your serving sizes.

  • 1 teaspoon of margarine is the size of one dice
  • 3 ounces of meat is the size of a deck of cards
  • 1 cup of pasta is the size of a baseball
  • 1½ ounces of cheese is the size of four stacked dice
  • ½ cup of fresh fruit is the size of a tennis ball

To overcome portion distortion and to downsize your helpings, try these tips.

  • Eat from a plate, not a package, so you know how much you eat.
  • Use smaller dishes, such as a lunch plate for your dinner, so less looks like more.

Once you get a good sense of serving sizes, you can compare them to the portions you eat and make any necessary modifications.

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