Portion Control [Part 3]: Here’s How Your Plate Should REALLY Look

October 26, 2016

Evaluate the Plate

By Registered Dietitian, Kay MacInnis

After training your belly to appreciate smaller amounts and learning to eyeball proper portion sizes, you’re well on your way to healthy eating as second nature, right?  You’re getting your 3-4 servings of fruit, 3-4 servings of veggies, 6 servings of grain and 3-6 servings of lean meats and fish or protein, plus eight glasses of water at least 8 oz tall for every 24 hours. Right?

More likely, your head is spinning as it tries to keep track of the endless rules.  That is where our third portion control tool comes in: plate mapping.  By following these plating guidelines, using the portions envisioned as household objects, you can ensure, without running tallies, that your needs have been met in a health-conscious way.

Think of your typical restaurant order.  Often the waiter brings you an extra large plate with food filling the bottom.  Bread doesn’t have to share the space, because it comes in a separate basket -- same for butter.  Maybe you’re at a place that serves vegetables completely separate “for sharing” (or not). 

Take a moment to put your two hands together in fists.  This is how big your stomach is.  Why does it take so much food to fill it?  Simple—it doesn’t.

Let’s first look at the plate itself, which has grown by more than a 3rd in the last 50 years.  Today’s dinner plate commonly measures 11 or 12 inches across, increasing to 13 inches in some restaurants.  In the 1960’s plates were 7 to 9 inches wide. That means a plate once considered full now looks sparser, tricking us into thinking we’re eating less volume. (http://smallplatemovement.org/doc/big_portions.pdf)

Before we even think about food, let’s fill our cupboards with reasonably sized dishes. Donate your old ones and enjoy the added cabinet space.  

Next let’s look at the shape of the plate. It’s not just a flat circle.  There is an indent to keep your food from sliding. That means the food should fall within this inner ring.  Tell your mashed potatoes and spaghetti to keep their arms and legs in the vehicle at all times.

You’ve probably already lessened your portion size with those guidelines alone.  We’re not done yet!  In order to further support portion control, while ensuring that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs for fuel, we are going to map out your plate. 

Envision your dish with a line down the center, making two half-moons. Now envision a line down the center of one half, splitting your plate into 3 sections, one taking up half the plate, and the other two combining for the other half.

The largest portion is reserved for fruits and vegetables, preferably steamed or grilled rather than fried or au gratin.  One of the two smaller portions is the meat/protein section.  The other small section is for whole grains.  That means your pasta or rice stays within a quarter of your plate-- it is not the foundation under the rest of your meal.  This also means the bread you’d like to eat goes HERE, not on a separate bread plate, or worse, bottomless basket.

So practice this visualization when you’re plating food at home.  Use the portion sized objects (link to Blog 2) for reference and see how they look within these plate guides. Do this with every meal so that you’re training your eye as much as your belly.

Be patient with yourself. Proper portion control takes time to learn.  Once you’ve become accustomed to it, you still have to periodically check in to see how your sizes measure up, because outside influencers like restaurants and TV ads flood our brains with oversized offerings.

Once you learn to ration properly, you’ll see it’s not a limitation, it’s a liberation.  Eating the proper portion of foods opens the door to endless recipes and flavors. You can eat anything you desire, as long as it’s a reasonable amount and a reasonable frequency.

So start today because if your size matters to you, your portions should, too.

This is the final entry part of a three part series on portion control. For the first click here. For the second, click here