How to Measure Food Portions Without a Scale

Measuring food is easy with simple tools

measure portion sizes with your hand
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If you are trying to lose weight, you need to eat the right amount of food. So it's important that you learn how to measure food portions. Most dieters do it with a digital kitchen scale. But what if you don't have one or you're away from home? Don't worry. Measuring food portions without a scale is easy if you know how to use simple tools that are always on hand.

How to Measure Food Portions With Your Hand

Measuring food is easy if you use a tool that's always nearby: your hand.

But the actual amount of food your hand can hold will depend on the size of your hand and on the type of food that you are measuring. Use this list as a general guide to estimate basic serving size equivalents.

  • One level handful = one quarter cup. A single serving of nuts is one ounce or 1/4 to 1/3 cup.
  • One heaping handful = one half cup. A single serving of dry pasta is roughly 1/2 cup
  • Two hands full = one cup.  A single serving of cooked pasta is usually one cup
  • One finger scoop = one teaspoon. A single serving of butter or oil is often one teaspoon
  • Two finger scoop = one tablespoon. A single serving of peanut butter is usually 2 tablespoons or two 2-finger scoops.

You can also use your hand to measure food portions of meat and produce. For example, a single 3-ounce serving of meat is roughly the size of your palm. A one-cup serving of fruit or vegetables is roughly the size of your closed fist.

 A single serving of cheese is about the size of your thumb.

How to Measure Food Portions With a Plate

Many dieters use their plate to estimate portion sizes. This works well for some, but dinner plates come in different sizes. So it's important to take the plate size into consideration when trying to determine serving size equivalents.

 Smaller plates for salad or appetizers are usually 8 or 9 inches across. A large dinner plate can measure 10-12 inches across.

So how much food will you eat when you fill your plate? Here's a general guide

  • One quarter of an 8-inch plate: 1/2 to 3/4 cups
  • One quarter of a 10.5-inch plate: 1-11/2 cups
  • One half of a 8-inch plate: 1 1/2 - 2 cups
  • One half of a 10.5-inch plate: 3 cups

Of course, the actual portion size you consume may depend not only on plate size, but also on how high you pile food onto your plate. One way to make sure you aren't loading too much food onto your plate is to separate your foods so that they don't touch.  If you have to keep space between your food, you'll notice that it's hard to overfill your plate.

Measuring Food With Portion Control Plates

Many smart dieters also use portion control plates and portion control glasses to make sure that they are eating and drinking the right amount. I'm a big fan of livliga dishes, glasses and serving pieces because they don't look like "diet dishes." But there are many brands on the market at different price points.

 

You can also turn your regular plates into portion control plates by using the USDA My Plate icon as your guide. The colorful plate picture shows how much protein, fruit, vegetables, healthy grains and dairy you should eat at meal time.  You can use the image at home to remind yourself and teach your kids how to prepare and eat healthy meals. 

Measure Food Portions for Weight Loss

Remember that when you're trying to lose weight, calories matter most.  So, measuring portion sizes is important, but food choices matter, too.  For example, a large portion of spinach is much better for your weight loss diet than a small portion of ice cream. But eating smaller portions of any food will help you reduce your caloric intake for weight loss. 

So how do you make sure you're eating the correct portion of food? Unfortunately, you can't rely on package size. Many food packages that look like they provide a single serving of food actually provide enough for two or even three servings. The Nutrition Facts label may give you a good idea of a reasonable serving size. But the number listed is not the recommended serving size. It is the amount of food typically consumed.

If you're dining out, eating the right portion size can be even trickier. Most entrees can serve 2-3 people. To eat less in a restaurant, plan to split an entree with a friend. Or order an appetizer for your main meal to make sure you aren't eating too much.

When you're eating at home, you'll get the best results when you measure food with a kitchen scale. But if you're in a hurry or don't have it handy, use these guides as estimates for food portions without a scale.

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