Portion Control Explained In 4 Pictures

Portion size is one of the topics I get asked about most frequently. We live in a world of oversized plates, cups, and bowls, and the line between just the right amount of food and too much can get pretty blurry when everything runs large. So I put together this handy, dandy portion size cheat sheet to simplify this confusing topic. Rest assured, you don’t need a food scale, measuring cups, or even a ruler. The quickest, simplest, easiest way to understand portion size is with your own hands.

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Non-Starchy Vegetables

Portion Size: Two handfuls plus! The more the merrier.

Non-starchy veggies include: Leafy greens, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, red peppers, eggplant, asparagus, etc.

Exceptions: Sweet potato, white potatoes, butternut squash, corn, peas, and pumpkin are considered sources of carbohydrate rather than veggies.

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Portion Size: A palmful.

Healthier protein choices: Fish, shellfish, skinless poultry, lean red meat, pork tenderloin, beans, tofu, nuts, Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, etc. In general, the less legs, the better, but there’s room for red meat, and pork, particularly if iron is a concern.

Carbs (including starchy veggies and fruit)

Portion size: A fistful.

Healthier carbohydrate choices: Quinoa, brown rice, whole grain bread/pasta, oats, barley, farro, sweet potato, pumpkin, corn, peas, and fruit. Whole grain/high fiber options are the healthiest choices!


Portion size: A thumb tip.

Healthier sources of fat: Olive oil, nut butters, seeds, avocado, canola oil, other vegetable oils (except palm oil). Go for plant-based fats when you can.


Portion size guidelines are ball park suggestions rather than hard and fast rules. Energy needs fluctuate over time depending on age, activity level, hormones, etc and so should the amount of food you eat. Sometimes you may need more than one serving of carbs, protein, and/or fat at a given meal. Listen to your body. If you’re extra hungry because you’ve been more active than usual, don’t sell yourself short on fuel.

Rough Guidelines For Building A Healthy Meal

1. Pick your PLANTS first. Aim for 3 colors, and cover half your plate. 

2. Choose a lean PROTEIN. Fatty fish like salmon, trout and barramundi come with the added benefit of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Limit red meat to 1-2/week. 

3. Add a high fiber CARB. Whole wheat pasta/bread, brown rice, quinoa and sweet potato are some of the most nutrient-dense choices. 

4. Drizzle with healthy FAT. Finish your meal with a drizzle of olive oil, a couple of slices of avocado or a sprinkle of nuts/seeds. 


For more information on how to build a healthy meal, check out the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate. 

Source: Harvard School of Public Health. 

Everything you need to know about portion control explained in 4 pictures by a Registered Dietitian.

Everything you need to know about portion control explained in 4 pictures by a Registered Dietitian.