Picture Perfect Portions - A New American Plate Challenge Update

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like summer lasts for 2 weeks and winter for 10 months?  I can’t believe it’s August already :(.  I was just starting to get used to the hot weather, and next week’s forecast is already calling for “fall like temperatures”, AND Target is already full of school supplies.   Summer is flying by as it does for me every year, and I need to savor every last minute of it.

Much like summer, my 12 week New American Plate (NAP) Challenge, is also flying by.  We’re already on week 11, so it’s time for a recap.  I've been posting about my experiences with each challenge to reduce my risk of cancer, all summer.  There is so much great information to share about the challenges the past few weeks, so I’m going to break weeks 9 and 10 into two posts.

Week 9’s challenge was to learn about portion sizes, and Practice Picturing Portions (try saying that three times), ie visualize the proper portion each time you prepare your meals or eat out.  This is one challenge I think everyone should try at least once.  “Portion Control” is one of the favorite mantras of nutritionists, and the hardest thing for most of us to master.  We always want just a few more bites of the foods that we need less of, and we tend to eat less of the foods that we need more of.  The goal of the NAP challenge is to reduce cancer risk, and eating the proper portions of each food group helps with this in two ways:  first, it helps you to maintain a healthy weight, which in itself reduces the risk of many cancers, and second, it ensures you get the right amounts of cancer fighting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

My eating philosophy is this:  eat mainly healthy foods, balance out your plates with lots of fruits and veggies, enjoy your treats occasionally, and as long as you get plenty of physical activity each week, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about counting and measuring everything.  I don’t like to nickel and dime every single bite that goes into my mouth (takes the fun out of eating), and I don’t think most people need to do that every single day either.  However, I do think it’s a worthwhile exercise to occasionally measure out your food and see exactly what you’re eating – or what you should be eating.   Here are the recommended portion sizes for each food group from the American Institute for Cancer Research.


AICR Serving Size Finder




Chopped Vegetables

1⁄2 cup

1⁄2 baseball
Raw Leafy Vegetables (such as lettuce)

1 cup

1 baseball or fist for average adult
Potato or Sweet Potato

½ cup

1⁄2 baseball
Fresh Fruit

1 medium piece

1 baseball

1⁄2 cup chopped

1⁄2 baseball
Dried Fruit

¼ cup

1 golf ball

1 ounce slice

Index Card (4 x 6 in)
Pasta, Rice, Cooked Cereal

1⁄2 cup

1⁄2 baseball
Ready-to-Eat Cereal

1 oz. varies from 1⁄4 cup to 1¼ cups

Dried Beans

1⁄2 cup cooked

1⁄2 baseball

1⁄3 cup

Level handful for average adult
Peanut Butter

2 tablespoons

½ golf ball

1½ oz.

4 dice or 2 (9-volt) batteries
Milk and Yogurt

1 cup

1 baseball
Red Meat, Poultry, Seafood

3 oz. (boneless cooked weight from 4 oz. raw)

Deck of cards
Oils (Olive, Canola e.g.)

1 teaspoon

1 dice
Salad Dressing (regular)

1 tablespoon

1 soup spoon

For more information about how many portions from each group you should eat each day, read through the information on Practicing and Picturing Portions from AICR.  The nice thing about measuring out your meals a few times,  is that it really is pretty easy to practice picturing your portions after that, especially if you compare the ideal portion to common objects, like the list on the right.


portion size for 3 oz meat
3 oz of meat = a deck of cards
baked-potato portion size
a medium baked potato = a computer mouse
cheese portion size
an ounce of cheese = 4 dice
pasta portion size
one cup of pasta = a baseball


½ cup of fruit or vegetable portion size
one-half cup serving of fruit or vegetable = a fist

Hopefully, your kitchen is stocked with measuring cups and spoons, so dig them out and measure your portions of pasta, cereal, milk, fruit and vegetables, and compare them to the ideal portions.   To measure meat, nuts, or anything else by weight,  I highly recommend a good digital scale.  They're not that expensive, and I use mine often when measuring out ingredients like apples, potatoes or squash for recipes.

digital scale

And if you really want to find out exactly how much you’re eating, this Perfect Portions Scale is a must!  It will tell you exactly how many calories, and grams of protein, carbs, sodium, fiber etc are in your food.  Just place your portion of food on the scale, and it will give you a nutrition label for that portion.  Super cool invention!

Perfect Portions scale

As always, these are available through my Amazon links and (disclosure) if you purchase through my link, I will receive a (very) small commission, which might eventually allow me to buy another kitchen gadget :).

We all (myself included) tend to over or underestimate how much we really eat.  We say we eat 1 cup of cereal but it’s really 1-¼ cups.  We think we ate ½ cup of ice cream, but it’s really ¾ cup.  We swear we use 1 tablespoon of dressing, but it’s really 3.  We’re pretty sure the vegetables we added to our sandwich count as a serving, but they were only ½ serving.  We say we drank a cup of milk, but it was only 6 oz.  Not huge discrepancies, but at the end of the day, week, month, they do add up, and sometimes, that’s the reason we tend to put on a few pounds each year, or don’t get quite enough of the fiber, calcium or antioxidants we need.


I weighed and measured for a few days, and (only because this is what I do for a living) I was pretty close to what’s recommended – but only when I eat at home.  Eating out is another story all together.  This is how some of my restaurant meals compared to the AICR recommended portions:


1 bakery bagel = 4 portions of bread! bread and bagel


Lobster Fettuccini = 4-6 portions pasta + way more fat than recommended! 


8 oz dinner portion of salmon = 2.6 portions salmon


Chicken burrito at Chipotle –broken down…

Tortilla = 3 portions of bread

Chicken (4oz) = 1.3 portions

Brown rice (4 oz)= 1 portion

Black beans (4 oz) = 1 portion

Cheese (1 oz) = 1 portion

Lettuce, tomato salsa, chili corn salsa and guacamole = about 2 portions of veggies  Chipotle burrito

Yes, it looks like everything was just about 1 portion, BUT add it all up and my starches totaled 4.5 portions (tortilla, rice and beans) and my proteins came to almost 3 portions (chicken, beans and cheese).  Better to spread them out throughout the day because my burrito had 1115 calories!  Luckily I was full at the halfway point 🙂

Will you take the portion challenge?  Try to weigh and measure your meals and snacks for a few days, and see how close you come to the recommendations.  Let me know how you do!


Eat well!

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