wikiHow to Eat Small Portions During Meals

Five Parts:Understanding Appropriate Portion SizesPlanning for Smaller MealsPreparing For Your MealFinishing Your MealManaging your Portions when Eating Out

One of the most important steps in losing weight (and keeping it off) begins with your meals. Portion control is a fairly easy way to lose or maintain your weight. In addition, smaller meals may also boost your energy throughout the day.[1] Sticking to small portions may be tough at first, but once you begin, you'll pick up the habit quickly!

Part 1
Understanding Appropriate Portion Sizes

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    Read the labels. Reading the food labels on food packages will allow you to figure out exactly how many or how much of the food is in one portion. For example: 15 chips, 1/2 cup or 1/2 the package.
    • This information will also help you figure out how many calories, fat or carbohydrates are in one serving of the food. This can be helpful if you're dieting or following a particular eating pattern.
    • It's particularly important to follow the serving sizes for calorie-containing beverages like juice or sports drinks and snack foods. Sometimes the "individual" sizes are actually 2 servings.
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    Eat larger portions of fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. These low-calorie powerhouses provide essential nutrients to your diet.
    • About 1 cup of raw vegetables and 2 cups of leafy greens counts as 1 serving of vegetables.[2]
    • About 1 cup of fruit or 1/2 cup dried fruit counts as 1 serving of fruit.[3]
    • The amount of fruits and vegetables you need each day may depend on your age, gender and level of physical activity.
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    Eat smaller portions of grains and starches. High carbohydrate foods like grains and starches can be a healthy part of your diet. However, compared to fruits, vegetables and lean protein, they contain fewer nutrients and more calories.[4] It's important to monitor your portion sizes of these types of foods.
    • 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal or 1/2 cup of pasta, rice or barley is considered one serving. Allot 2-3 servings of grains daily.[5]
    • Always try to choose 100% whole grains when possible. These have higher amounts of fiber and nutrients compared to refined grains.

Part 2
Planning for Smaller Meals

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    Measure how much you eat. Serve yourself the amount you'd normally eat and measure it. This will give you a definitive amount that you're consuming. Are you eating 5 oz of chicken, 1 cup of salad and 1 cup of rice? Understanding how big or small your normal portion sizes are can help you figure out how you're going to decrease their size.
    • Purchase a food scale or a set of measuring cups so you can accurately determine how much you're eating. These are also great tools to keep you on track long term with your smaller portions.
    • Really analyze how much you're consuming at each meal. Then, think about which parts you could reduce without diminishing your enjoyment of it.
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    Buy smaller silverware and utensils. Many studies have shown that the larger sized dishes and serving utensils you use, the more food you consume.[6] Avoid this slip up by purchasing smaller plates and bowls and using a soup spoon instead of larger serving spoons.
    • Use an appetizer or salad sized plate for your entrees. These are a great size for small portions.
    • Try using the salad fork or a toddler fork to help decrease the amount of food per bite. This will slow you down and force you to take your time with your meals.
    • Keep using a large water glass to help you consume a good quantity of water throughout your meal. This can also help keep your portions smaller.
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    Start journaling. Keeping a food journal can give you a lot of insight into your eating habits. You can keep track of the types of foods you eat, the portions and your progress over time.[7]
    • Journaling can also give you insight to when and what times you're hungry. Knowing this information can help you plan ahead for a snack.
    • You may also be able to notice eating and mood patterns. Maybe most of the time you eat an appropriate portion, but when you're stressed portion sizes increase. This is good information to help plan for portion control.
    • Buy a journal that's pretty and you will get excited about using. Having something you enjoy writing in can help make sure that you stay consistent.
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    Rate your hunger level. Check in with yourself throughout the day and rate your hunger level. Allowing yourself to get too hungry may lead to overeating at your next meal. It's much harder to stick to smaller portions if you're feeling completely famished.
    • If you notice yourself getting hungry in the afternoon and you know dinner isn't until later in the evening, have a snack. A small snack can help tide you over until your next eating time and may prevent overeating later.
    • Try to choose a snack that has lean protein and produce (fruit or vegetable). This healthy combination will keep you satisfied longer compared to a carbohydrate based snack.[8] Examples include: a low-fat cheese stick and a small apple, 2 tbsp of peanut butter and celery sticks or 1/4 cup of hummus and carrots.
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    Eat breakfast every day. Start your day off with a good breakfast. Eating breakfast has been shown to help you control your appetite throughout the day which may make it easier for you to stick to small portions.[9]
    • Ideally, include some lean protein and a fruit or vegetable for a more complete meal. For example, you might have scrambled eggs with vegetables, whole grain oatmeal with fruit or greek yogurt with fruit.
    • Breakfast can be any time of day. However, try to eat within an hour or so from when you first wake up.

Part 3
Preparing For Your Meal

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    Measure your portions. Using your measuring cups or food scale, always measure each of your meals. Aim to have 4-6 oz of lean protein and at least 1-2 servings of vegetables or fruit.
    • After you have served yourself your portion, put the leftovers away. It'll be less tempting to go back for seconds.
    • Use portion controlled tupperware containers for meals at work. You'll be able to know exactly how much you're eating even when you don't have your food scale handy.
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    Drink 8 oz of water. You may feel hungry, but are actually just thirsty![10] Try drinking water or another clear, sugar-free beverage (like diet iced tea) shortly before meals. When you sit down to eat, you'll find that it takes less food to fill you.
    • To prevent these common symptoms of dehydration, aim to drink 64 oz of clear, sugar-free liquids all day. Always have a water bottle close by and sip all day long!
    • It can also be helpful to drink flavored water, diet tea or zero-calorie sports drinks. These may help you quiet down your hunger temporarily before your meal.
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    Exercise for 15 minutes. A short bout of aerobic exercise (like a jog or bike ride) may help suppress your appetite and help you control your portion sizes. If you can, participate in at least 15 minutes of cardio prior to eating a meal.[11]
    • Try scheduling your daily gym session right before dinner or take a walk with co-workers before your lunch break.
    • No time for cardio? Just try to do a few jumping jacks or squats. Even a modest amount of physical activity may help put you in a healthy mindset at your next meal.
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    Turn off technology. Whether it's your cell phone, tablet, laptop or TV, turn it off! If you're checking emails or watching your favorite sitcom, this type of distracted eating can lead to the consumption of larger portions - you're unaware of how much you're eating in one sitting.[12]
    • Make a rule to only eat at the table when you're at home. At work, shut off your computer or log out of your email and other work programs.
    • Try to focus on your food. Eat mindfully and fully enjoy all aspects of your meal. This will allow you to feel more satisfied after you've finished your meal.
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    Eat lower-calorie foods first. Prior to eating your meal, have a serving of lower-calorie foods like vegetables or vegetable based soups. This can help decrease your hunger and fill your stomach with lower calorie foods allowing you to have more controlled portions.[13]
    • Keep cleaned and cut raw vegetables in your fridge. Set out a small serving for yourself as you cook or prepare your meals.
    • Sip on broth or low-calorie vegetable soup. A hot mug of savory soup will help decrease your hunger and manage your portions throughout your meal.

Part 4
Finishing Your Meal

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    Time your meal. It should take you at least 20 minutes to complete your meal. It takes this amount of time for your brain to signal satisfaction and fullness.[14] If you eat faster than this, you may end up consuming a lot more food than necessary to make you feel satisfied.
    • Set a stop watch or timer for 20 minutes so you can clock yourself throughout your meal.
    • Practice putting your fork down between bites, taking a sip of water or talking to friends/family while you eat.
    • Take a deep breath and try to mentally center yourself before you eat. Stress and busy schedules can rush you through meals. Take time to really enjoy your meal time.
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    Stop eating when you're satisfied, not full. Understanding the difference between satisfied, full and stuffed is important. An appropriate, small portion size should leave you feeling just satisfied.
    • Satisfaction typically means you're no longer hunger. You may also notice you lose interest in your meal or are just beginning to feel a very faint stretching sensation in your stomach.
    • Another way to think of satisfied is to think of your stomach as a gas tank. Aim to "fill" your stomach about 70% of the way up with food - not 100%.
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    Eat more vegetables. Sometimes it can be hard to follow a smaller portion size. If you feel like you really need something else, eat more vegetables. They are low in calories and high in nutrients like fiber and vitamins. A few extra servings of veggies won't hurt.
    • Try having a salad along with your meals. It's light, satisfying and can help make you feel a little more full if you need to.
    • Double up on your veggie sides. Instead of having a starch (like rice or potatoes) and a vegetable, cook up two different types of veggies! Again, going back for seconds or doubling up on these low-calorie foods is OK.
    • Pack more vegetables into your recipes. If you're making pasta or a stir fry, double the amount of vegetables the recipe calls for. It won't hurt to have a slightly bigger portion if most of your meal consists of vegetables.

Part 5
Managing your Portions when Eating Out

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    Print or buy a portion size guide. Most people won't pull out a set of measuring cups or a food scale at a nice restaurant. To keep you on track with portion sizes, have a guide on hand like this one from WebMD
    • Keep a copy of this guide in your wallet or purse. Pull it out once your meal arrives and compare what you're served with and the appropriate portion size listed.
    • Divide your plate by the "correct portion" size and "leftovers." Ask to box the leftovers immediately so they're no longer a temptation.
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    Choose your meal before you go. Do a little research before you head out to eat. Knowing what options are available prior to ordering helps you stay away from temptations and stick to your smaller portion size.
    • Check out the menu and nutrition information online if available. Choose 1-2 items that seem good and will fit into your small portion.
    • Call ahead and see if they're able to half or smaller portions. It can help you prepare for whether you will need to take home leftovers.
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    Leave food on your plate. Learning to leave a little bit of leftovers on your plate is a good habit to get into. You can almost guarantee that restaurant portions are much larger than recommended. Plan on having leftovers.
    • When you eat out, ask the waiter to box a quarter—or even half—of your meal before you get it. You'll have the perfect leftover portion for the next day.
    • Ask your server if they have half or petite portions if it's difficult for you to leave items on your plate.
    • Split an entrée with a friend or family member. This is another good option if you have a hard time not finishing the whole portion. If you split it, it's automatically portion controlled!
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    Order an appetizer. This is a great way to manage portions. Starters are usually smaller (and cheaper!) than entrees. There's also a low risk of finishing "more than you should" which can happen with larger entrée sized meals.
    • Try tapas too! Some restaurants serve tapas which are very small portions of dishes. You can order 1-2 small tapas and overall still maintain a small portion size. It's great for those who like to try a variety of dishes.
    • If you don't order an appetizer, try order a child's size portion. Again, these are much smaller than an adult entrée and make portion control a lot easier. Beware of "kid foods" - sometimes portions are smaller but the choices might not be very healthy.


  • It helps to change eating habits and tackle weight loss with a partner or in a team. Doing this with a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or co-workers helps you stay focused and motivated.
  • Wear form-fitting clothing. A tighter shirt, pants or belt can give you a constant reminder to eat less. If you feel your clothes are a little snug, it'll be a great physical reminder to stick to your plan.
  • Avoid eating from the box or bag. It's almost impossible to know how much you've eaten if you're eating foods right from their container. Always portion out a small handful or serving and the put the rest away.
  • Dim the lights. Set the mood for small portions by dimming the lights. Studies have shown this can help you eat less during a meal.
  • Fill up on raw vegetables or cold bean salads before your meal. They are tasty, filling and low calorie!
  • Be wary of the television! Many shows and commercials are chock-full of pizza, burgers, and other junk food that tempt you off track.

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Categories: Diet Programs | Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating