Many of us, including myself, have been conditioned to “clean our plates” in an effort not to waste good food. Or in my case, I would have to sit at the family dinner table until I finished every last cold pea if I had any hopes of getting a dessert. But as you know all too well, cleaning your plate means extra calories, which translates into unwanted pounds. Breaking the plate-cleaning habit will certainly help you shed your excess weight. But not wanting to waste good food myself, let’s start with how much gets onto your plate and then talk about some ways to deal with the extras.
With the advent of “super-sizing” most of us aren’t sure what a serving of food actually looks like — such as meat, pasta or dessert — let alone know how many servings of these foods we should eat in a day to maintain our weight. When we eat out, whether at a fast-food or a sit-down restaurant, we typically are served hefty portions.
A serving of steak, chicken or fish at most restaurants, for example, is typically 6 to 12 ounces, which is actually two to four “real” servings. A plate of pasta at a restaurant is easily four real servings, and desserts, which already are loaded with fat and calories, are also served in “mega” portion sizes. It’s no wonder so many Americans struggle with excess weight; we are constantly being exposed to an overdose of food.
Let’s take a look at serving sizes of common foods along with a guide on the number of servings you should eat in a day:
- Breads, rice, pasta, cereal and other grain products: You should have at least six to 11 servings per day. One serving equals one slice of bread, half a bagel (some large deli bagels equal three to four servings), one-half cup of cooked pasta (about the size of a computer mouse), 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, one-half cup of potatoes, or a six-inch tortilla.
- Vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, broccoli and spinach: You should have at least three to five servings per day. One serving equals one-half cup cooked or one cup raw.
- Fruit, such as apples, oranges, strawberries, kiwi and prunes: You should have at least two to four servings per day. One serving equals one medium-sized fresh fruit (about the size of a tennis ball), or one-half cup of fruit juice (the real thing, not fruit “drink”).
- Meat, including fish, chicken, pork or egg, and vegetable sources of protein such as soy (tofu) or beans (kidney, lentils, etc.): You should have at least 5 to 6 ounces of meat or an equivalent of beans per day. One serving equals 2 to 3 ounces of meat (about the size of a deck of playing cards), one egg, 4 ounces of tofu, or one-half cup cooked beans.
- Dairy or other calcium-rich foods, low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt or cheese, calcium-fortified soymilk: You should have at least two to three servings per day. One serving equals one cup of milk, yogurt or soymilk, or 2 ounces of cheese (about two one-inch cubes).
- Fat, such as oil (olive, canola, corn), avocado, margarine and butter: You should have no more than 65 grams of fat per day. One serving equals one teaspoon or about 5 grams of fat (the size of a thumb tip), or one-eighth of an avocado. Use sparingly and be aware that fat lurks in many foods you eat, so check the label.
Notice sugary sodas, gooey desserts and other treats aren’t among these food groups. Your goal here is to eat these extra foods only occasionally because they provide little more than unnecessary calories.
Now that you know serving sizes and how many servings of different foods fit into your daily menu, go ahead and dish up your plate. You may want to measure out foods at first — use real measuring cups — so that you get the hang of how much is on your plate. No need to feel bad now about cleaning your plate since you have now served yourself less food and are saving on calories.
Eating out, though, is more of a challenge since portion sizes are hefty. Here are a few tips to cut back on the amount of food you eat without feeling as if you are wasting uneaten food:
- Plan on taking some extra home in a doggy bag (half of the steak, fish or other entrée); this way you will have lunch for the next day.
- Order the smaller-sized item — such as a burger or soda — even if the larger version is a better value. It’s better to save on calories than money.
- Split a food order — such as fries, pasta or dessert — with a friend.
- While tough at first, ask for a smaller portion of the entrée, such as the meat or fish. The restaurant may even charge less, but in any case, you won’t be tempted to overeat just because “it’s there.”
By managing what goes on your plate, you can easily shed those extra pounds. Combine it with some regular physical activity and you are on your way to better health — without wasting good food.