Find out how everyday objects can ease the guessing game of serving sizes and portion control.

Lori Brookhart-Schervish
September 28, 2018

Figuring Out Portion Sizes

What you eat is important, especially when it comes to making positive food choices, but how much you eat is the real brainteaser of healthy eating. When you look at the oversize food portions, ranging from the diameter of bagels to mounds of pasta, translating a serving size into portions is a big challenge in a more-is-better world.

The first step is knowing the difference between a portion and a serving size. A serving size is a recommended standard measurement of food. A portion is how much food you eat, which could consist of multiple servings.

Visually comparing a serving size to an everyday object you have at home, such as a baseball or a shot glass, can be helpful in identifying what a serving size looks like without carting around a scale and measuring cups for every meal and snack. Here are some general guidelines for the number of daily servings from each food group*:

  • Grains and starchy vegetables: 6-11 servings a day
  • Nonstarchy vegetables: 3-5 servings a day
  • Dairy: 2-4 servings a day
  • Lean meats and meat substitutes: 4-6 ounces a day or 4-6 one-ounce servings a day
  • Fruit: 2-3 servings a day
  • Fats, oils, and sweets: Eat sparingly

*Check with your doctor or dietitian to determine the appropriate daily recommendations for you.

Whole Grain Bread

1 serving = 1 slice

A slice of bread is proportional to the size of one DVD disc.


1 serving = 1 teaspoon

One small pat of butter is equal to one serving size.

Green Peas

1 serving = 1/2 cup

A serving-size side of green peas is equal to half of a baseball.

Air-Popped or Light Microwave Popcorn

1 serving = 3 cups

Snack away on the healthier varieties of popcorn and enjoy a serving size of three baseballs.

Baked Potato or Sweet Potato

1 serving = 1/2 cup

Choose a potato the size of a computer mouse.

Salad Greens

1 serving = 1 cup

When making your perfect salad, the serving of greens should be the size of one baseball.

Reduced-Fat Salad Dressing

1 serving = 1/4 cup

Top your salad with one golf-ball size serving of dressing.

Peanut Butter

1 serving = 1 tablespoon

You're doing great if your peanut butter serving fits into half of a 1-ounce shot glass.


1 serving = 1 ounce

A bagel the size of half of a baseball is equal to one serving.


1 serving = 1/3 cup cooked

A serving of pasta is roughly the same size as one tennis ball.

Olive Oil

1 serving = 1 teaspoon

Olive oil is a great alternative to butter, but remember to keep the serving size similar to one pat of butter.

Canned Fruit

1 serving = 1/2 cup

Canned fruit in light juices is equal to half of a baseball.

Baked French Fries

1 serving = 1 cup + 1 teaspoon of canola or olive oil

A serving of French fries looks like the equivalent of one baseball. Don't forget to account for the teaspoon of oil.

Shredded Cheese

1 serving = 2 tablespoons

Toss your salad or taco with a serving of shredded cheese equal to one 1-ounce shot glass.


1 serving = 1/2 cup

Enjoy a serving of steamed broccoli that's the size of half of a baseball.

100-Percent Orange or Apple Juice

1 serving = 4 ounces or 1/2 cup

A fun-size juice box is the serving size you should aim for. Another way to think about it: an average woman's fist resting on its side.


1 serving = 1 medium apple

Pick an apple about the same size as one baseball.


1 serving = 3 ounces cooked

A serving of fish will have the thickness and length of a checkbook.

Reduced-Fat Mayonnaise

1 serving = 1 tablespoon

If you go for reduced-fat mayo, fill half of a 1-ounce shot glass for a serving.

Low-Fat Block Cheese

1 serving = 1 ounce

Keep your serving size of hard cheese to the equivalent of three dice.

Chicken, Beef, Pork, or Turkey

1 serving = 3 ounces cooked

When cooking lean meat, choose a serving the size of one deck of cards.

Nonfat or Low-Fat Milk

1 serving = 1 cup

A serving looks like the small 8-ounce carton of milk you loved in school.


1 serving size = 2 cookies

Cookies shouldn't be monster-size. Think Oreos for a good measure of comparison.

Ice Cream

1 serving = 1/2 cup

Scoop out the creamy dessert to equal half of a baseball.


1 serving = 2 tablespoons

If you must have your candy, a serving equals one 1-ounce shot glass.