I looked around to see a group of three young, very large, adult males standing in front of the beef section, holding a package of steak in their hands. They were obviously trying to calculate how much they needed for the meal they were planning.
I have to say that my mind seized a bit at the notion of anyone eating more than a pound of steak in one go, so I had to remind myself to close my mouth because it had dropped open in astonishment.
I really shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Far too many people consume way more calories than they can possibly burn in the course of normal activities.
The obesity epidemic in this country definitely has its roots in this approach to food. As do many of the other diet-related health issues that many Americans suffer from, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
It’s also this kind of thinking about portion sizes that makes people think it’s expensive to eat healthy and well, when in actuality nothing could be further from the truth.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 4th of July and Memorial Day barbecues, etc., are all occasions when we typically enjoy eating more than usual. There are other events throughout the year as well, such as birthdays and vacation times.
But here’s the deal. Whenever we indulge ourselves like that, we would be wise to remember that we are in essence overeating, sometimes grossly so.
Now, we can pig out now and again without any major consequences to our waistline or our budget. However, if we begin to make it any kind of habit -- particularly as we get older -- the effects on our weight will be substantial, and we’ll eventually end up fat.
It's really as simple as that.
And as far as our bottom line goes, if we’re overeating, we’re spending more on our food than we should.
In order to stay within a food budget, one of the first things we need to learn is the appropriate amounts of food to buy and prepare so that we are meeting our nutritional needs and leaving the table satisfied, but not stuffed or overfed.
Meat is a common area where people completely miscalculate how much they need.
4-6 ounces a day more than meets the average person’s daily requirements. That describes the vast majority of us.
By comparison, the typical restaurant portion is more like 10-12 ounces, so two to three times what most of us need on a given day.
And nobody, but nobody needs a pound or more of steak or any other meat in their diet. Ever. That’s simply a recipe for all kinds of health and budget issues.
So, here's how daily protein might look in your diet.
- If you are in the habit of having eggs for breakfast, say, that's one serving of protein.
- Add a cold cut sandwich with 1-2 slices of deli ham and that’s another two servings of protein.
- For dinner, a 3-ounce portion of meat or fish is about the size of a computer mouse or a deck of cards.
That totals 6 servings of protein by the end of the day.
Eating this way, you’ve more than met your daily recommended servings with substantially smaller portions than those that take up half or more of a dinner plate.
Keep in mind, too, that there are also sources of protein that are much, much cheaper than meat.
It’s a myth that you cannot get your protein needs from plant-based sources. Legumes, dairy products, eggs, seeds, nuts, etc. are all perfectly viable ways to get the necessary amino acids in your diet.
In contrast to the overdose of protein in the average U.S. diet, many Americans tend to shortchange themselves in the essential fruit, vegetable, and grain categories.
In fact, I’ve heard many a person say that they could never possibly eat all the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, so they take a multivitamin instead. But they falsely believe that the portion sizes suggested are large ones.
Recommended Portions Are Smaller Than You Think
While it's true that it's almost impossible to eat too many fruits and vegetables, and you can pile them on your plate without worries about weight gain or negative health consequences, the actual amount that it takes to keep us in good health is not as much as people think.
- A serving of fruit is a baseball size apple or orange, not the gargantuan softball size (or larger) pieces you see on display in many stores.
- Or ½ cup of cut up vegetables makes a portion (about half a medium carrot, for example)
- Or 1 cup of raw leafy green vegetables, cut up a little meets the requirements for a serving (about 1-1½ leaves romaine lettuce)
- Or 4-6 ounces of 100% fruit juice is the equivalent of a serving of fruit (that's a very small glass, and not the huge 16-ounce size that many people drink)
If you ever take the time to measure those amounts out, you soon see that it’s not much at all, and most of us can meet it easily by simply incorporating a serving or two into each meal and snack of the day.
It's the reason I recommend salad as a side dish for every meal recipe in this blog.
A one-cup portion of salad is much smaller than most people realize, so it's perfectly possible to actually get 2 servings without even realizing it.
When you combine that with other vegetables that you include in many recipes, such as the ones here on my blog, or in your own recipes and menus, you will find that it's not nearly as difficult as you thought to get the daily recommended servings as part of your regular diet.
Knowing Portion Sizes Can Help You Plan and Shop Within Your Budget
And once you realize what portion sizes you actually need, it’s a much easier matter to plan your meals and grocery shopping lists accordingly.
You’ll find that it’s cheaper and healthier to fill your daily menus with things that satisfy both your appetite AND your nutritional requirements, rather than wasting money on unnecessary and unhealthy calories.
To assist you in figuring out what portions you need of the various food groups, refer to the portion reference chart I’ve provided below.
It’s my hope that it will be a help to you in staying on track both budget- and health-wise.