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Portion Size

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Portion Size

Portion size is often people's stumbling block when looking at changing their lifestyle and eating healthier.

Knowing what a portion is or how much to eat at each meal time can be a minefield. Portion sizes have dramatically changed over the years, with portions getting bigger and plates getting larger. More and more restaurants serve up higher portions with a mian meal often being at least 3/4 of your daily intake or more in just one sitting.

Portion changes over 20 years

Starchy Carbohydrates (*unrefined)

Eight to 10 portions per day (to maintain weight for an average adult, depending on your activity level

Starchy foods are our main source of energy and should form the basis of every meal.

The following amounts count as one portion (however, you will usually have more than one portion at each meal).

Three tablespoons of breakfast cereal, one slice of bread, half a baked potato, two small boiled potatoes, three tablespoons of boiled pasta, two tablespoons of boiled rice, 115g cooked noodles, half a pitta bread and three small crackers.

Aim for *unrefined carbohydrates these are whole grains which will keep you fuller for longer. They contain more fibre and have a better nutritional value. Examples are wholemeal bread, pasta and rice.

If you're trying to maintain your weight, it's best to aim for between two and four portions with every meal (to add up to eight to 10 for one day).

Typical amounts for one meal are:-

  • Nine tablespoons of cereal (tennis ball) Three portions
  • Two slices of bread (toast or sandwhich) Two portions
  • Four small potatoes (each one size of an egg) Two portions
  • Nine tablespoons of pasta 60g (tennis ball) Three portions
  • Six tablespoons of rice 75g (small fist) Three portions

If you're trying to lose excess weight, only eat about five to eight portions per day, which will mean that the amount you have at each meal will be smaller. And if you decide to include most of your day's quota of starchy foods in one meal, cut down throughout the rest of the day.

Meat, fish and other proteins

Two to three portions per day – with at least one portion of oily fish a week

This group includes non-dairy sources of protein, which is important for growth and repair. Try to include one portion in at least two of your daily meals. One portion counts as the following:-

  • Lean meat 100g raw or 75g cooked (deck of cards)
  • 75g of oily fish or 100g of white fish (cheque book)
  • Two medium sized eggs
  • Five tablespoons of baked beans (half a tin)
  • Four tablespoons of pulses e.g. lentils or chickpeas (a heaped handful)

Try to limit your intake of red and processed meat because they can be high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and cause heart disease.


Three portions a day

Dairy foods contain calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and are also a good source of protein. Try to include one portion with every meal, and go for lower-fat options when you can. One portion includes the following:-

  • Milk - 200ml small glass
  • Yoghurt - 150ml small pot
  • Hard Cheese - 30g (small matchbox)
  • Cottage Cheese - 90g (2 tablespoons)

The milk on your cereal and in your tea all counts. Go for lower-fat cheese and yoghurts, and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. These contain just as much calcium as full-fat versions.

Fruit and vegetables

At least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day

Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried, can all count towards your 5 A Day, and eating these may help to reduce the risk of heart disease, stoke and some cancers. They are also a great source of vitamins and minerals all of which are important for your health.

  • Large fruit - one or 2 large slices of mango or pineapple
  • Medium size fruit - apple, banana, peach
  • Small fruit - kiwis, plums, satsumas
  • Grapes and berries - a small handful
  • Fruit smoothie - 150ml small glass is one portion
  • Mixed veg - peas, sweetcorn, carrots, three tablespoons
  • Salad one desert bowl
  • 2 broccoli florets
  • 8 cauliflower florets
  • 8 brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 large courgette
  • 7 cherry tomatoes
  • 3 whole dried apricots

NB Sources from Bupa and NHS. The portion sizes and numbers in this article are calculated using published guidelines that estimate an average person's nutritional and energy requirements. Please speak to your doctor if your are looking at reducing or increasing your calorie intake.

Portion Control Chart with Calories

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