Control Your Eating: Serving Sizes

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FoodPyramidPortion sizes have been growing over the past 30 years - and as a result, so have Americans. In some cases, the portion of a particular food served in restaurants as a meal can surpass the amount you need in a day! For instance, a movie theatre popcorn equals 8 grain servings; a Porterhouse steak is 5 meat servings. The Food Pyramid helps Americans to eat a variety of foods so that we can get all the vitamins and nutrients we need.

Servings are included in the chart to help us keep the amount of food we eat (our portions) under control.

  • A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat. There is no standard portion size and no single right or wrong portion size.
  • A serving is a standard amount used to help give advice about how much to eat.

An understanding of serving sizes and how they compare to your portion sizes can help you to eat in moderation.

How Much is in a Serving?

Grains Group:

  • 1 slice white bread
  • 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • ½ cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • ½ cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta
  • 1 medium potato


Vegetable Group:

  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables or salad vegetables
  • ½ cup other vegetables
  • ½ cup cooked vegetables
  • ¾ cup vegetable juice


Fruit Group:

  • 1 apple, banana, orange or pear
  • ½ cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit
  • ¾ cup fruit juice


Dairy Group:

  • 1 cup milk or yogurt
  • 1 ½ ounces cheese (like Cheddar)
  • 2 ounces processed cheese (like American)


Meat and Beans Group:

  • 2-3 ounces cooked lean meat, poultry or fish
  • ½ cup beans or tofu
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter or 1/3 cup nuts
  • 1 egg

Portion sizes have been growing over the past 30 years - and as a result, so have Americans. In some cases, the portion of a particular food served in restaurants as a meal can surpass the amount you need in a day! For instance, a movie theatre popcorn equals 8 grain servings; a Porterhouse steak is 5 meat servings.

When you get a heaping amount of food in a restaurant, don't clean your plate. Eat a sensible portion, and take the rest to go.

How Many Servings You Need

Notice that the Food Pyramid recommends a range of servings for each food group for instance, you might need anywhere from 6 to 11 servings of grains. That's because different people have different caloric needs.

A woman who does not exercise might need only 1,600 calories a day over the course of a day, she should eat 6 servings from the grain group. A man who is physically active, however, might require 2,800 calories per day: he should eat 11 servings from the grain category.

The following chart spells out serving sizes by caloric needs:

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* 9-18 year-olds and adults over 50 need 3 servings daily; others need 2 servings.
** Includes lactose-free milk products and soy-based beverages with added calcium.
*** Some foods fit into more than one group. These "cross-over" foods can be counted as servings from either one or the other group, but not both.


Take the time to get familiar with serving sizes and track your eating (or your family's eating) for one day. How does what you're eating compare with what you should be eating?


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