Dietitian’s Corner – Holiday Portion Control

Thanksgiving is a great time for enjoying the company of family and friends as well as enjoying delicious food. With so many foods to choose from, it can be easy to overdo portion sizes and overindulge. Portion awareness as well as mindful eating can help reduce overeating during the holidays. It can also be helpful to understand the difference between portions and servings.

A portion is an amount of food you choose to eat. It can be bigger or smaller than the daily recommended serving.

A serving can be used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group such as what is described in Canada’s Food Guide. However, you can also see serving sizes listed on food products in the nutrition facts table that tells how much of specific nutrients can be found in that amount of a product.

Unfortunately, few of us have a clue what constitutes a serving size or an appropriate portion. Restaurants don’t help matters either, offering amounts of food that far exceed our hunger or our need for various nutrients. Here are some tips to help you enjoy your Thanksgiving celebrations while being mindful of portion sizes.

Learn how to approximate serving sizes. Unless you want to drag out the kitchen scale, learning how to estimate serving sizes by comparing them to everyday objects is important. For example, one cup is roughly the size of a tennis ball. Other easy measurements to remember include the following:

  • 3 ounces of lean meat = a deck of playing cards
  • 1/2 cup of rice, pasta or potatoes = 1/2 a baseball
  • 1 ounce of cheese = 1 domino
  • 1 teaspoon of butter = 1 dice

Join the Small Plate Movement. An oversized platter may hold all the turkey, dressing and fixings you can imagine, but filling your dinner-sized plate may leave you feeling uncomfortably full after eating. This Thanksgiving, instead choose a small plate, preferably one between six and eight inches in diameter. Think of a bread plate or a small side plate.

Divide your plate. While there are some pretty neat portion control plates out there, they aren’t necessary. Instead, mentally divide your small plate in 3: 1/3 should hold protein, about the size of a deck of cards; 1/3 for vegetables and 1/3 for high fiber carbohydrates like whole grains, potatoes, etc.

Fill up on proteins first. Eating protein first can help contribute to satiety and nutrition. However, fiber is still equally important so make sure you have a good source of high-fiber foods on your plate for optimal satiety. Choose a variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and seasonings like lemon, olive oil, herbs and spices.

Listen to your stomach. Be intentional about paying attention to how full you feel. Check in with your hunger and satiety throughout the meal and eat only until you feel satisfied (not full). Taking at least 20 minutes to finish your meal and chewing well will help you better tune in to your body’s individual hunger and satiety cues. You want to finish your meal feeling comfortable, not bloated and stuffed. Try to determine when you’re about 80 percent full and stop. You can always grab a snack later if you feel hungry.

Thanks to the “butt seriously” blog at for these tips.