Healthy eating should be daylong goal

Mike DeDoncker

Portion size is one thing. Serving size can be quite another. Then, of course, there’s super size.

It’s no wonder Americans are confused about what’s healthy when it comes to how much they should be eating. Controlling portion size is one of the easiest and most effective ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but it helps to know what a serving size is to make it work.

Betsy Hornick, a Poplar Grove-based registered dietitian, suggests once you know the difference between a portion — the actual amount of food eaten at one sitting — and a serving — the amount recommended from each food group by the government’s Food Guide Pyramid or Dietary Guidelines for Americans — the best idea is to think of healthy eating as a daylong goal. 

“People have almost become trained to think that what they receive in restaurants and the portions in bags at the grocery stores are typical servings,” Hornick said. “What’s key is that you need to look at what you’re eating over the course of the day.

“If you do have a larger portion, say at lunch, of pasta that could be as much as two cups of pasta at a meal in a restaurant. Just knowing that it would be four of your grain servings right there would allow you to put that in perspective for what you’re eating at your other meals.”

The Food Guide Pyramid recommends, per day, two to three servings from a milk, yogurt and cheese group; two to three servings from a meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group; two to four servings of fruit; three to five servings of vegetables; six to 11 servings from a bread, cereal, rice and pasta group, and only sparing use of a fats, oils and sweets group.

“I like to refer people back to the pyramid because that is our standard advice,” Hornick said, “and servings that are listed as part of the pyramid recommendation, you could call those standard servings.

“It doesn’t mean that’s the only amount you could eat at one time. Again, it’s just part of your total goal for the day. If you have a six-ounce steak at dinner that could be most, or really all, of your meat servings for the day depending on how many calories you need.”

The Food Guide Pyramid recommends serving sizes in ounces and cups and, Hornick said, it can be helpful to determine a serving size by using a visual cue.

For instance, a baseball is about the size of a medium apple or orange, which is the pyramid’s recommended serving size for those fruits, but it’s also about the same size as a cup of vegetables or dry cereal. A deck of cards is about the same size as the pyramid’s recommended three-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish, and a computer mouse would be equal to the pyramid’s small baked potato, half-cup of beans or half-cup of cereal, pasta or rice.

Hornick said a healthy eating plan can then be established by using the Food Guide Pyramid’s plan found at and clicking on My Pyramid Plan. The user enters their age, gender, current weight and activity level from the plan’s menu and then can select a plan to maintain their current weight or move toward a healthier weight. The Web site offers a plan of how many ounces or cups of each food group they should aim for in their daily eating plan.

“I don’t like to tell people that they can only eat this or that serving amount at a time,” Hornick said, “but just be aware of how much you are eating. I think that’s where we have lost perspective on looking at a serving and saying, ‘oh that’s standard’ or, ‘that’s fine’ and sometimes it just takes pulling out a couple measuring cups to see what you’re really eating.

“Our plates and bowls are so large nowadays that you can easily pour yourself two cups of cereal in a large bowl and you might think that’s only one cup because it’s only one bowl, so it’s worth taking the time and measuring to get a visual perspective.”

Hornick said she thinks the current Food Pyramid’s recommendations of servings in ounces and cups is more realistic for people trying to control their eating than in the past and said, if there is one place to break the pyramid’s plan it’s vegetables.

“That’s one area where its probably OK to overdo it,” she said, “as long as your not loading them up with sauce and butter and whatever. Vegetables is certainly an area where we fall far behind in meeting our daily recommendations.”

Hornick also said there is no need to be overly rigid in following recommended serving sizes.

“It’s important to keep in mind that you’re probably going to average out over several days,” she said, “so every day doesn’t have to be a perfect day. If I didn’t eat enough vegetables today and I overdid my grain servings well, being realistic, tomorrow it could be the other way around.”

Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382