Food portion tips for better chronic disease self-management

Experts recommend that people with diabetes or those trying to lose weight measure their portions so they know how much food they’re eating. Measuring cups and spoons aren’t always available. Here are some ways to estimate your portions.

Controlling portion size is important when you have a chronic condition. Weight management is an important tool to manage chronic conditions and measuring the amount of food you eat will help you control your weight. The most accurate way to measure your food is to use cups, spoons and a food scale, but sometimes they just are not handy!

Several techniques can be used to estimate portion sizes when utensils are not available.

The first is visualization. If we can think about common items from our everyday lives, we can visualize approximately what a serving looks like:    

Tennis ball =   

Medium apple, orange, peach

Deck of cards =

Three ounce serving of meat, tofu

Compact disk (CD) =

The diameter of one pancake

Baseball =

Two servings of cooked rice, potato or pasta

Baseball =

1 cup salad greens

3-4 stacked regular size dice =

1.5 ounces cheese

1 dice =

1 teaspoon of butter, margarine, other spreads

Large egg =

1/4 cup raisins, dried fruit

Checkbook =

3 ounces grilled/baked fish

Ping-pong or golf ball =

2 tablespoons peanut butter, hummus

Poker chip =

1 Tablespoon of butter, margarine, salad dressing, mayonnaise, oil

Computer mouse =

baked potato

Another way to keep track is at the end of your arms!

  • On average, a woman’s palm is equal to about 1/2 cup of vegetables, cut-up fruit, rice, cooked cereal or a four ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish.
  • A woman’s tight fist equals about one serving of whole fruit, a cup of liquid, one cup of cooked vegetables, a baked potato or a cup of cereal flakes.
  • A woman’s thumb is about the size of a tablespoon; the tip of the thumb to the first joint, a teaspoon.
  • One ounce is about the amount of nuts or small candies that a woman can hold in her hand.

These estimates can be helpful when dining out, but Michigan State University Extension says it’s a good idea to use measuring utensils at least once a week to make sure that portion sizes aren’t increasing over time. The more you measure your food using utensils and a food scale, the better you will be at estimating how much you eat over time.

How many servings of food should we have each day? The following chart from the American Health Association is based on a daily 2,000 calorie diet:


Servings a day

Examples of one serving



1 slice bread, 1 ounce dry cereal, 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, pasta



1 cup raw leafy, 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables, ½ cup vegetable juice



1 medium, 1/4 cup dried, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned, ½ cup 100% fruit juice



1 cup milk, yogurt, 1.5 ounces cheese


Less than 6 ounces

3 ounces cooked meat, tofu, fish



1 teaspoon butter, margarine or oil, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, salad dressing, 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing

Nuts, seeds, legumes

4-5 a week

1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons seeds, 1/2 cup cooked dried beans

Sweets and added sugars

5 or fewer servings per week

1 tablespoon sugar or jam, ½ cup sorbet, 1 cup lemonade 

A portable serving size card can be found at the website of the National Institutes of Health Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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