Serving Size at Restaurants

Families, Food and Fitness July 06, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

The continuing trends of super-sizing, huge portions, all-you-can-eat buffets, and extra-large single servings have all contributed to our expanding waistlines. Portion sizes have increased over the past 20 years and continue to get larger. Eating larger portions at one meal would not be such a big problem if we ate less at the next meal or over time. This does not happen, however. Research shows that we don’t compensate at other meals for large portions by eating less at the next meal. This, of course, means eating more calories than we need over time. When we are served large portions, we also tend to eat more. Even if we don’t eat the entire portion, we eat more than we would have if we had been served a smaller portion.


The large portions we are continually served are causing portion distortion. We have been served large portions for so long that we have come to expect them. This makes it difficult for us to assess what a normal portion is and the amount that we should be eating.

Some of the best (or worst) examples of huge portion sizes are at fast food restaurants. Take a look at the photos of drinks, fries, and hamburgers. The difference in calories between the small and the large is staggering. We also see portions larger than we need at other restaurants as well.

Try these tips for your own Super-Size Survival Guide:

  1. Order a kid's meal at a fast food restaurant. You will get less food for less money.
  2. Share your meal with a family member or friend.
  3. Don’t up-size or super-size. At fast food restaurants, up-sizing usually means more fries, more soft drink, and more calories.
  4. Don’t always order the largest size sandwich, fries, or drink.


Rolls BJ, Roe LS, Kral RVE, Meengs JS, Wall DE. 2004. Increasing the portion size of a packaged snack increases energy intake in men and women. Appetite 42(1):63-69.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.