Let’s face it, most of us want to lose a few pounds. But with all the crazy diets and conflicting information about calories, portions, and types of foods, you’re probably wondering how much food should I eat per meal?
There is no one-size-fits-all diet or meal plan. The correct amount of calories and types of food a person should eat is entirely personal and depends on a variety of factors, including weight, height, gender, age, and activity level.
Some people have sensitivities and allergies to certain foods that can throw off their natural body chemistry. So how can you determine the right amount you should be eating at every meal?
Instead of focusing on how much you should eat per meal, a more effective method of watching what you eat is to control your portion sizes and make sure that you are getting the daily recommended amounts of healthy foods.
Some people feel their best when they eat a large breakfast and a light dinner, and some prefer a huge lunch and lots of snacks.
The size of each meal doesn’t matter as much as the overall picture of your meals per day.
Portions sizes, especially in the United States, have gotten completely out of control. With food being mass produced and everyone wanting to get the most out of every dollar, restaurants and grocery stores offer deals on buying larger quantities of food.
Unlimited refills, supersized meals, and all-you-can-eat buffets are the norm in our society, and are certainly contributing to our expanding waistlines. Even if you are only eating super healthy foods, eating too much of anything will prevent you from losing weight.
Remember that food companies do not care about what is best for you or giving you the right nutrition or portion sizes, they just want your money! It is up to you to find out how many servings of each type of food you should have per day, and how large a serving really is.
What are the Correct Portion Sizes for Me?
Although it depends on a variety of factors, the average recommended daily caloric intake is about 2,000 calories. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following amount of each food per day:
- 5 cups vegetables
- 5 oz. lean meat (can be substituted for 1.25 cups beans for a vegetarian)
- 2 cups fruit
- 3 cups milk or equivalent dairy products
- 3 oz. grains
Right away you can see that the average American is probably eating way more carbs and dairy than recommended, not enough fruits and vegetables, and fewer healthy meat options.
Remember, this is the total recommended number of portions per day, not per meal. If you have a half pound steak for lunch, you have already exceeded your meat servings for the entire day, and it wasn’t even the recommended lean meat.
Keep these portion numbers in mind when planning your meals for the day.
How Can I Measure Portion Sizes?
Obviously it’s not realistic to think that you can measure out every single piece of food before you eat it, especially during meals out.
Learn the basic portion sizes so you can tell how much you should eat when your server places a huge steaming bowl of pasta in front of you, and how much you should take home for tomorrow’s leftovers.
Find what works for you to help you remember. For example, a 3-oz. portion of meat (more than half of your recommended daily meat servings) is about the size of a soap bar or card deck.
You can also tell from the recommended servings the ratios of the foods you should be eating; for example, you should be consuming more vegetables than fruits, and fewer grains than lean meat.
Tips to Control Your Portions When Dining Out
It’s a lot easier to measure and control our portions when we prepare our own meals, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy meals out while still watching your portion sizes.
In fact, you may find that eating out becomes more cost-effective. Control your portions while eating out by:
- Request the kids’ menu. Most restaurants will let you order off the children’s menu even as an adult, and the portion sizes are smaller.
- Ask for a to-go box at the start of your meal. Put half your food, or however much of each portion that doesn’t fit in your daily portion plan, in the box to take home for tomorrow or another meal, and only eat what is left in front of you.
- Choose an appetizer or a salad for your meal instead of a large entree.
- Order the lunch portion at dinner. Lunch portions are typically smaller.
Following portion guidelines can help you know how much to eat at every meal each day.
You can healthily maintain or lose weight while feeling satisfied and saving money. It’s a no-brainer!