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Portion sizes

 

No matter how healthy the food you eat is, you can still be at risk of serious health problems if you eat too much or too little for your energy needs. If you’re overweight despite sticking to a healthy, balanced diet, chances are you need to cut down your portion sizes. Here we outline recommended portion sizes and amounts for an average adult aiming to maintain their weight. If you’re aiming to lose excess weight, you will need to eat fewer portions than this.

Please note, the portion sizes and numbers in this article are calculated using published guidelines that estimate an average person’s nutritional and energy requirements.

Starchy foods

Eight to 10 portions per day (to maintain weight for an average adult, depending on your activity level)

Starchy foods are our main source of energy and should form the basis of every meal.

The following amounts count as one portion (however, you will usually have more than one portion at each meal).

  • three tablespoons of breakfast cereal
  • one slice of bread
  • half a baked potato
  • two small boiled potatoes
  • three tablespoons of boiled pasta
  • two tablespoons of boiled rice
  • 115g cooked noodles
  • half a pitta bread
  • half a scone
  • three small crackers

Recommended amounts

If you’re trying to maintain your weight, it’s best to aim for between two and four portions with every meal (to add up to eight to 10 for one day). So, some typical amounts for one meal may include the following. 

Cereal


Bread


Baked potato


Boiled potatoes
Nine tablespoons – about the size of a tennis ball
(three portions)
Two slices of toast or a sandwich
(two portions)
One medium baked potato
(two portions)
Four small potatoes, each the size of an egg
(two portions)

Pasta

Rice
 
Noodles

Pitta bread
Nine tablespoons – about 60g
(three portions)
Six tablespoons – about 75g
(three portions)
One block of dried noodles
(one portion)
A filled pitta bread
(two portions)

A day’s amount may include nine tablespoons of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and six tablespoons of rice with dinner. Try to go for wholegrain or wholemeal versions of starchy foods as they are likely to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Remember you can adjust these amounts to suit your own needs. If you’re trying to lose excess weight, only eat about five to eight portions per day, which will mean that the amount you have at each meal will be smaller. And if you decide to include most of your day’s quota of starchy foods in one meal, cut down throughout the rest of the day.

Meat, fish and other proteins

Two to three portions per day – with at least one portion of oily fish a week

This group includes non-dairy sources of protein, which is important for growth and repair. Try to include one portion in at least two of your daily meals. One portion counts as the following.


Lean meat

Fish

Eggs
100g raw/75g cooked – the size of a deck of cards 75g oily fish or 150g white fish is the size of a cheque book Two medium-sized eggs

Baked beans
 
Pulses

Nuts
Five tablespoons is half a tin Four tablespoons of pulses (eg lentils or chickpeas) is a heaped handful Two tablespoons is a small handful

A day’s worth from this group might mean two eggs with breakfast and a piece of fish for dinner; or a chicken salad for lunch and half a tin of baked beans with dinner. Try to limit your intake of red and processed meat because they can be high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and cause heart disease.

Dairy

Three portions a day

Dairy foods contain calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and are also a good source of protein. Try to include one portion with every meal, and go for lower-fat options when you can. A portion includes the following.  

Milk

Yoghurt


Hard cheese


Cottage cheese
200ml is a small glass 150ml is a small pot 30g is the size of a small matchbox 90g or about two tablespoons

The milk on your cereal and in your tea all counts. Go for lower-fat cheese and yoghurts, and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. These contain just as much calcium as full-fat versions.

Fruit and vegetables

At least five portions a day

One portion is 80g of any fruit or vegetable. Examples include:


Large fruit

Medium-sized fruit

Small fruit

Grapes and berries

One or two slices of large fruit, such as mango, pineapple or papaya One medium-size fruit, such as an apple, orange, banana or peach Two small fruits, such as kiwis, plums, satsumas or clementines One to two handfuls of grapes or berries

Fruit juice and smoothies

Mixed veg

Salad leaves


Beans

150ml (a small glass) – this can only count as one portion a day Peas, carrots, sweetcorn and mixed veg – three heaped tablespoons One dessert bowl Three heaped tablespoons – this can only count as one portion a day

Have a glass of fruit juice with your breakfast and snack on fruit throughout the day. If you have a sandwich at lunchtime, include some salad as it will contribute towards another of your five a day.

Fat and sugar

Limit your intake of these foods

Foods high in fat include butter, cream, chocolate and cakes. Foods and drinks high in sugar include soft drinks, sweets and biscuits. Only eat foods from this group sparingly.

Tips for cutting down portions sizes

Many people are surprised when they realise what a typical portion size should look like. If you’re used to piling your plate high with pasta or filling your bowl to the brim with cereal, it can come as quite a shock. But once you cut down, you’ll soon get used to eating less.

Here are some general pointers if you think you need to cut down portion sizes.

  • Use smaller plates or bowls for your meals. A small plate full of food is much less disheartening than a large plate that’s half empty.
  • You don’t need to cut down on your fruit and veg if you’re trying to lose weight. So if your plate is looking a bit sparse, fill it up with vegetables. And if you’re craving a mid-morning snack, go for a piece of fruit.
  • Think about everything you eat during the day. It’s easy to forget the biscuit you had with your tea at work or extra slice of cheese in your sandwich.
  • Counting calories and weighing food is no fun and hard to keep up. Instead, compare what you usually eat against this guide for a week or so and you can start to identify areas where you’re eating more than you should.

 

Produced by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Heath Information Team, November 2012. 

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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