“Sometimes the proper portion of food just looks so small.” - Jennifer Chinn: Age: 39, corporate events coordinator, Farmington Hills, Mich.

November 01, 2011
Joe Vaughn


When it comes to portions, Jen and her husband, Mark, raise a white flag. “You got me on that,” she admits good-naturedly. Dinner is the main struggle—recipes often make four or six servings, but it’s just the two of them at the table. “When I’m giving him a big plate of food and I’m getting my girly portion, I tend to feel deprived,” she says. “I have a scale and measuring spoons. But I find I’m still hungry.” Plus, she wonders about that all-important question: “Where does ice cream fit into this?”


When her portion of food is smaller than that of the other people at the table, it’s no wonder Jen feels like she’s missing out. But eating well isn’t about depriving yourself of something. It’s about finding balance and enjoying a variety of foods. With a few cooking suggestions and food substitutions, Jen will be feeling full and satisfied, even if she is eating just a bit less than others.

  • Start with a small plate. We don’t mean tapas, although that’s a good idea, too. We mean tableware. It’s simple math: A smaller plate holds less food. And your sensible portions won’t look sad and lonely surrounded by empty acreage on a 14-inch dinner plate. The same principle applies to bowls and glasses.
  • Then divide it. The newly redesigned USDA plate recommends splitting your meal into fourths. Dish up your whole grain side and lean meat, then balance it with equal servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Add freebie foods. Vegetables and fruits are less calorically dense than meat or carbohydrates, meaning you can add several portions of them to your plate and still not eat too many calories. The same trick works when adding veggies to other dishes. Try our Roasted Cauliflower Pasta, which uses cauliflower florets to add bulk to the tasty pasta without a lot of calories.
  • Eat before you eat. Start meals with a fresh salad tossed with homemade vinaigrette or a low-calorie soup. Think of it as a twofer: You won’t feel deprived because there’s food on your plate, and you’ll add a serving of vegetables to your daily diet.
  • Slice meats. Instead of plating two slab-sized 8-ounce chicken breasts, cook one and slice it on the bias, divide in half, then plate. Do the same thing for steaks. Slicing meats and fanning them out helps fill up the plate—it doesn’t look like less, but it cuts the portion (and grocery bill!) in half.
  • Go ahead; take that trip down Rocky Road. Although a pint might look like a proper portion compared to a half gallon tub, the proper serving size of ice cream is a half-cup. Scoop a single portion of ice cream into a French demi bowl or soufflé cup. Or pick up the small single-serve cups many manufacturers have begun making. (Just make sure it has 4 ounces or fewer per serving.)