Controlling Your Portion Sizes

Portion tips from Croí's Dietitian

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Controlling your portions doesn’t mean you need to eat tiny amounts or measure out precisely the number of peas on your plate! However, we know that having a better understanding of healthy portion sizes helps prevent over-eating and weight gain. As we are now working from home a lot more, many people that would normally be eating in canteens and cafes are now preparing all meals from scratch at home. The portions served in canteens and cafes can be far greater than we need and we can get into a habit of viewing these larger portions as normal. Now might be as good time as any to retrain your brain to become satisfied on slightly less.

Use the Croí portion plate as a portion guide at mealtimes

Aim to fill your plate as follows:

  • Half plate of vegetables/salad
  • Quarter plate of wholegrain carbohydrates
  • Quarter plate of protein


Here are some tips to try:

  • Use a smaller plate: A standard-sized serving will look small on a large plate, making you feel dissatisfied. Use a smaller plate to prevent overloading. A general rule of thumb for a dinner plate size is 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter.
  • Use measuring cups for your carbs: If you are finding it difficult to gauge the right amount of pasta or rice to eat, try using measuring cups. A 200ml size mug is equivalent to 1 serving of cooked rice or pasta. (See the serving size guide for other food groups below).
  • Check the label: Make sure you know what portion the nutritional information on the pack relates to. It might be different to the amount you would normally serve yourself. Many products are packaged for sharing but will state a recommended serving quantity per person.
  • Smart Snacking: Be mindful of falling into a grazing/snacking habit at home. If you do choose a snack, aim for 150kcal (calories) per snack. This could be a low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit, 2 rice crackers and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter/hummus, or 1 matchbox size of cheese and a small handful of grapes.
  • Leave the leftovers: Portion leftovers into a container and store in the fridge or freezer straight away so you’re not tempted to have seconds.
  • The 20 minute rule: Think you haven’t had enough? Wait for about 20 minutes before reaching for a second helping. It can take a little while for you to feel full after you have eaten. So avoid the temptation to keep eating and see if you get that feeling.
  • Slow down: Many of us can eat very quickly or eat while distracted at our desks or while watching TV. Our brain doesn’t get the chance to register this eating occasion. If we eat too quickly, we have usually over-eaten by the time our brain and tummy start to register this and we can feel uncomfortably full or suffer from indigestion. Slowing down the rate of eating actually helps us to enjoy our food and feel more satisfied on less.
  • Keep meal-times regular: Delaying eating for longer than 4-5 hours can have a knock on effect of eating larger portions sizes or less healthy food choices grab a ‘quick fix’ when hunger suddenly takes hold. Developing a structure on your day at home and scheduling time to prepare and eat your meals will help control your appetite and prevent over-eating or excess snacking.
Source: Department of Health / HSE 2016 Healthy Eating Guidelines.

This serving guide from the Department of Health / HSE 2016 Healthy Eating Guidelines, provides a handy visual for what servings of each food group should look like. For more information on the number of recommended daily servings per food group, based on your age, gender and activity level, click here.

Plates, portions and weight control

We eat with our eyes and the size of our plate influences how hungry or satisfied we feel after eating a meal.  Over the past few decades portion sizes served in restaurants and cafes have increased. In the USA, the average restaurant meal today is over 4 times larger than in the 1950’s, with Ireland following a similar trend. This promotes over eating and can lead to weight gain and obesity. Studies show that people are generally eating an extra 200-300 calories per day more than they actually need, so it’s not surprising our waist lines are expanding!

While larger plates and bowls may look stylish, research consistently shows eating from them leads us to serve and eat bigger portions. Why? It all comes down to a sneaky optical illusion, the ‘Delboeuf illusion’.
This describes how larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, so we add more to the plate! The picture below demonstrates this theory, the same-sized central circle (the test circle in black) appears smaller when surrounded by a much larger concentric circle, than when surrounded by only a slightly larger concentric circle. This helps us to understand that our perception of food portion size is linked with the size of the plate it is served on. Switching to a smaller dinner plate puts you in greater control, and less likely to over-eat.

The Dietitians at Croí have redesigned the Croí Portion Plate. The plate is split to guide you to eat balanced meals and healthy portion sizes. A good rule of thumb is to aim for half a plate of vegetables/salad, ¼ plate of lean protein and  ¼ plate of wholegrain carbohydrates. Portion size guides are included on the back of the plate.

5 tips to perfect your portions

  1. Check the size of your dinner plates, a standard plate size should be no more than 9 ½ inches.
  2. Leave a cup measure in your cereal, rice, or pasta container so you have a clear idea of how much you’re scooping out each time.
  3. Focus on food quality, not quantity, and take the time to savour and enjoy the smell, taste and texture of every mouthful.
  4. Lean meat portions half the size of your palm are perfect. Cut yours down to size and save the leftovers for lunch the next day!
  5. Always include some vegetables or salad at every meal (aim for half your plate), these are low calorie nutrient rich foods that provide vitamins and minerals for good health.