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Mass in Motion: Down-size your portions

Learn how you can control your portion size to avoid overeating.
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Portion control tips

Eating large portions adds extra calories, and extra calories can add extra weight. Use smaller plates, eat smaller bites, and take time to enjoy your meal so you don’t overeat.

Many of us eat more than we think.  Make sure you're taking the right portions by using ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Portion control is even more important when you’re eating out. Restaurant portions are bigger than ever before. Here are a few tips for right-sizing your portions when you’re out to eat:

  • Eat only half the meal, and take the rest home
  • Order from the menu instead of the all-you-can-eat buffet
  • Choose the "small" or "medium" size for your main item, sides, and drinks. Never “supersize” your order

Snack smart

For most of us, snacks often act as an extra source of calories. Portion control is the key to a healthy snack. Right-size your snacks by dividing a big bag into smaller bags or containers, buying single servings packs with 100 calories or less, and avoiding eating straight from the bag.

Healthy options for snacks for both you and your kids are fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat cheese or yogurts, low-fat microwave popcorn, or a small serving of pretzels. Smart snacks when your family is on-the-go are cut-up fruits, a small box of raisins, whole-grain cereal and crackers, low-fat granola bars, baked chips, and rice cakes.

But before you pick up a snack, ask yourself if you are really hungry - if you aren't, skip it. When you do need to eat a snack, make a smart choice.

Smart snack tips

  • Read nutrition labels: choose snacks with low amounts of calories, sugar, and fat
  • Avoid snacks with a lot of sugar, salt, and fat - limit cakes, cookies, ice cream, chips, french fries, and candy
  • Eat snacks at least 2 hours before meals so you still have an appetite
  • Choose fruits and vegetables that are fresh, frozen, canned, or 100% fruit juice
  • Make sure dairy products are low-fat or fat-free
  • Serve nuts in small portions, paired with another healthy snack such as fruit
  • Carry your favorite healthy snacks with you when you leave home for the day - that way you won't be tempted to buy less healthy snacks when you're out and about.

Smart snack tips for kids

  • Do taste tests with your kids for trying new vegetables and fruits
  • For children 6 years old and over, serve snacks at least 2 hours before meals so they still have an appetite
  • For children between 2 and 5 years old, serve 2-3 snacks a day (about 1-2 hours before meal times)
  • Don't use food as a reward for your kids - instead, do a fun activity!

Calories count! How many calories do you need?

Calories count! Staying at a healthy weight is about finding the right balance. It's important to balance the number of calories you eat and drink with the number of calories your body uses or "burns off" during physical activity.

  • A calorie is a unit of energy that comes from food. A calorie is a calorie no matter what type of food it comes from.
  • Caloric balance is like a scale. Calories from food and drink should be balanced by calories used through normal daily activities and physical activity.

Most adults only need 2,000 calories each day to maintain a healthy weight. But everyone is different. The number of calories you need depends on your:

  1. Age
  2. Gender
  3. Level of physical activity

The table below tells how many calories you need based on your age and gender.

Calorie guidelines for moderately active levels of physical activity
  Age 2-3 Age 4-8 Age 9-13 Age 14-18 Age 19-50 Age 51+
Females 1000-1400 1400-1600 1600-2000 2000 2000-2200 1800
Males 1000-1400 1400-1600 1600-2000 2400-2800 2400-2800 2200-2400

The calorie ranges are based on an active lifestyle of 30-60 minutes of physical activity each day. (ChooseMyPlate.gov)

The more active you are, the more calories you burn. And the more calories you burn, the more calories you can take in without gaining weight.

The less active you are, the less calories you burn. And the less calories you burn, the less calories you can take in without gaining weight.

It's easy to check the Nutrition Facts Labels in store-bought items to see how many calories are in a serving or the whole container. When you're out to eat, it can be harder to know how many calories are in the foods you eat. Check out our Mass in Motion tip sheets to help you make healthier choices when you eat away from home.

Tips for healthy eating out

When you’re out to eat…

  • Order from the menu instead of the all-you-can-eat buffet.
  • Order foods that are steamed, grilled, or baked instead of fried, battered or sautéed.
  • Avoid buttery or creamy sauces and gravies.
  • Order an appetizer or side dish as your main meal, or share a meal with a friend
  • Ask for a whole wheat instead of white bread or roll
  • Ask for salad dressing on the side. This way, you choose how much you use.
  • Choose meals with lots of vegetables, such as stir fries
  • Eat only half the meal, and take the rest home
  • Ask for water or order low-fat or fat-free milk, unsweetened tea, or other drinks with no added sugars.

Eat smart everywhere you go:

Fast food
  • Choose the "small" or "medium" size for your main item, sides, and drinks
  • Choose regular hamburgers instead of double cheeseburgers with extra bacon and mayonnaise
Sub shop
  • Choose roast beef or turkey instead of a mayonnaise-based sub, such as tuna or chicken salad
  • Choose a 6-inch sub rather than the 12-inch sub
  • Load up your sub with lots of vegetables, such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, peppers and cucumbers
Mexican
  • Leave off the sour cream and guacamole
  • Go easy on chips, nachos, and large fried items like taco salads
  • If you order a large burrito, save half for later. Some burritos can have up to 1,100 calories.
Pizza
  • Order pizzas with lots of vegetables and no meats - this can cut the calories almost in half
  • Ask for thin crust
Chinese/Asian
  • Avoid fried items such as egg rolls, fried rice, fried dumplings, tempura, and wontons
  • Choose dishes with lots of vegetables, such as shrimp and broccoli
Italian
  • Order pasta with marinara sauce instead of white, creamy sauces
  • Instead of pasta as a side, ask for a vegetable side dish or a salad
  • Limit yourself to one piece of bread or roll
Steakhouse
  • Order filets and flanks instead of steak tips
  • Avoid added butter and sauces for your steak
  • For a side, order a ,vegetable, baked potato or sweet potato instead of garlic mashed potatoes

Confused about portions, servings, and the difference between them?

serving size is the amount of food we're recommended to eat. Nutrition labels tells us how many calories and nutrients are in each serving. It's important to look for serving sizes on the Nutrition Facts Label to understand how much fat, sugar, calories, and carbohydrates are in each serving we eat or drink.

portion size, on the other hand, is the amount of food you choose to eat. It can be a big or small portion — it's your choice.

There may be a different serving size and portion size for the same food. For example, a serving size for cookies may be 1 cookie. Your portion size (how many cookies you actually eat) may be 3 cookies. In this case, your portion size is equal to three serving sizes.

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