Serving Size at Fast Food

Families, Food and Fitness November 18, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

The size of food portions at fast food restaurants has increased over the last two decades. Some of the worst cases of portion distortion are from fast food restaurants with triple burgers, foot-long sandwiches, full-pound burgers, huge orders of fries, oversized burritos, and super-large soft drinks. Which raises the question: What is the proper serving size for me and my family? To determine the amount of food in a given serving, it is important to learn how to estimate the proper portion size. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a helpful guide that shows you the correct serving size for each food group. One way of controlling the size of your portions is to use everyday items as guides. Items that can help as a guide for serving sizes include a computer mouse, music CD, baseball, deck of cards, domino, and a pair of dice.

man eating a hamburger

For example:

  • 1 cup = one baseball and ½ cup = ½ baseball.
  • 3 oz of cooked meat, poultry, or fish = one deck of cards or a computer mouse.
  • 1½ ounces of natural cheese = 6 die.
  • One pancake or waffle = one music CD.

Using your hands is another method to use as a guide for portion sizes at fast food restaurants. To estimate your protein intake, one serving should be about the size of the palm of your hand. The size of two fists would be a serving of salad greens. Starchy items such as pasta, rice, or potatoes can be estimated by the size of one tightly clenched fist. The size of a thumb also helps you to measure how much salad dressing, butter, or peanut butter you are eating. The tip of the average thumb to the first joint is equal to one teaspoon, and three thumb tips equal one tablespoon.

You can also read the nutrition information for your meal before you order. Many fast food restaurants provide nutrition information about their menu items.

Last but not least, to cut down on large portions, try ordering from the kid’s menu, order an appetizer with a side salad, split a meal with a friend or family member, or take leftovers home.

Fast Food Menu with Fitness Calculator

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