Monthly Health Message:

Take Control of Portion Sizes

July 2012

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Portion control helps to decrease daily calories and allow for weight maintenance or loss. Eating less in America is difficult when people follow the philosophy of "bigger is better." Try these tips to help you take control of your portion sizes at home and when eating out.

How to Control Portion Sizes at Home

  • Shrink your plates: Using a smaller plate may make it look as though there's more food on it. It's a way to "trick" your brain into thinking you are getting more.
  • Dish it out: You'll tend to eat more if you eat directly out of a container or box. Put a handful of crackers on a plate instead of reaching into the box, and put ice cream in a bowl instead of eating it out of the carton.
  • Drink water before eating: If you drink a big glass of water before you sit down to eat, you'll feel fuller and won't be tempted to eat as much.
  • Wait before taking a second portion. Eat a moderate first serving of food. Then, wait ten minutes before going back for seconds. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it's full, so after waiting you might find that you're no longer hungry enough for that second helping.
  • Keep it simple: Prepare foods that have easy-to-see portions. You can also buy foods in individual portions (make sure you check on the label) to remove some of the guesswork.

How to Control Portion Sizes When Eating Out
  • Know what you're getting: Restaurant portions have been steadily growing in recent years. Customers want to get a good value for their money, so restaurants serve them more than enough food. Take a good look at the portion size and compare that to what you know is a reasonable portion. For example, many restaurants include several servings of pasta as one "portion."
  • Save half or more of the meal: When you get your meal, visually cut the food into realistic portions. Eat half or less, and then ask for the rest to go. You'll control your portions and have a ready-to-go lunch and/or dinner for the next day.
  • Skip the bread: Take a piece of bread, then ask the waiter to take the bread basket away so you're not tempted to keep snacking before your meal arrives.
  • Get salad dressing on the side: Ask for sauces on the side too. If you can pour something on to your food yourself, you'll probably use less than if a restaurant does it for you.

Enjoy your meals by taking small steps to eat slowly and savor each bite. You'll eat less food, consume fewer calories, and find the food more satisfying.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences