Take the Portion Control Challenge

November's Goal: Find simple strategies that can help you eat a little less—without even thinking.

In a world of triple-stacked hamburgers, double-stuffed cookies, and super-sized cups of soda, it’s no wonder most Americans struggle to control their portions—how are you even supposed to know what a healthy portion is? Research consistently shows that all sorts of factors, from plate size to distractions like a turned-on television, affect the portions we choose.

While the terms “portion size” and “serving size” are used almost interchangeably, there is a difference: A portion is the amount of food you put on your plate. A serving, in its technical (as opposed to cookbook) usage, is a USDA-recommended specific amount of food—it’s often defined in terms of measurements, such as ounces, cups, tablespoons, and the like. A steakhouse rib-eye portion, for example, may be 6 to 18 ounces, but the USDA—and Cooking Light—serving size for steak is just 3 ounces (cooked).

Portion distortion in restaurants is a given, especially when “value” is part of the sell. In the grocery store, things can be tricky, too: Many socalled single-serving snacks contain two or more servings. And the portion problem even extends to fresh foods: At Cooking Light, we’ve watched with astonishment at the ballooning size of the chicken breast over the years—a single breast can be 10 ounces today, but a typical Cooking Light serving is 6 ounces (raw).

The challenge this month is to be portion aware—to read labels and recipes and learn what the recommended servings and portions are. Eating smaller portions is one of the easiest ways to cut back on your calorie intake while still enjoying foods you love eating. And you can do it without obsessively relying on measuring cups, scales, and tablespoons.