by Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Co-op Food and Nutrition Educator
Accurate portion information is a gentle first step toward Natural Portion Management. Very young children, when presented with an array of nutritious foods, can easily select a diet that meets their nutrition needs without eating too much or too little. They are naturally excellent managers of their food intake. As we grow older, many of us lose this natural ability to self-regulate our intake according to our needs. Returning to that natural, internal eating wisdom requires paying some attention to the foods we select, the portion sizes, and the satiety (“I’ve eaten enough”) signals our body sends us.
Most adults need about 2000 calories a day for good health. If you are a taller or shorter person, or more or less active, this might not be the right amount for you, but we’ll start there.
This calorie level breaks down into these healthful food choices over the course of a day:
Now it’s time to start some new food habits. This article will mainly focus on fruits and vegetables and grains. Future articles will zoom in on serving sizes for the other foods groups.
What are you favorite fruits and vegetables? Fresh, frozen, canned and dried DO count. Plan on eating at least one or two servings of these at each meal. Add a small ½ cup serving a week until you are up to the goal of two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables a day.
Here are some fruit and vegetable serving sizes to get you started. You may be surprised to learn that it doesn’t require a whole lot of produce to meet your daily nutrition needs.
Specific 1/2-cup servings of vegetables are:
1/2 cu chopped or florets or 1-1/2 spears, 5 inches long, raw or cooked
Greens (collards, mustard greens, turnip greens), kale, or spinach:
1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw
1 medium or 6 baby carrots
1/2 large baked (2-1/4 inches or more in diameter)
Dry beans and peas (such as garbanzo, kidney, or soy beans; black eyed peas or split peas):
1/2 cup cooked, whole or mashed
1/2 large ear
Green or red peppers:
1/2 large pepper
Specific 1/2-cup servings of fruit are:
1/8 of a medium melon
16 seedless grapes
1 large Clementine
1 large plum
About 4 large berries
Dried fruit (raisins, prunes, apricots, etc):
1/4 cup dried fruit is equivalent to 1/2 cup fruit
Once you’ve mastered the produce, you’re ready for the grains. Try to make at least half of your six daily Grains Group servings from whole grains.
Generally, the following each count as one serving or a “1 oz.-equivalent” from the Grains Group:
While the fruit and vegetables groups are ones that you can pretty much eat freely, since most of us don’t indulge in these nearly enough, the grains group is one to keep an eye on. We tend to overeat them and to choose refined sweetened and fatty grain-based foods that don’t support health. It can be very helpful to spend a week or at least a few days just monitoring your grains food intake to see if you are anywhere near or way above the six servings a day recommendation. Try switching from larger bagels and muffins to mini-versions and half-portions. Then try switching some of your choices to wholegrain versions. For example, have a snack of 3 cups of popcorn instead of cookies for a great wholegrain switcheroo.
Sample Menus for a 2000 Calorie Food Pattern
Suggested amounts of food to consume to meet recommended nutrient intakes