The innovative approach to travel-sized portion control is an easy way to hack meals at home.

By Zee Krstic
January 14, 2019
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One of the key aspects of any diet is portion control: in addition to eating the right ingredients prepared in healthy ways, many home cooks often struggle to eat the right amounts of these foods as well. Evidence has shown that portion sizes in America have slowly increased over the last century—and yet there isn't one perfect method to ensure portions are in check (despite one hack that scientists discovered for a way to avoid massive portions while eating out).

But one smart approach may actually be the universal standard that any home cook could adopt, and it comes from former 'American Idol' judge Randy Jackson.

The music mogul was recently featured in a Los Angeles Times interview discussing how type 2 diabetes has changed his life: Nearly 20 years ago, Jackson was diagnosed with the disease after ignoring warning signs and neglecting his health. He worked with a slew of health professionals, including a behaviorist, to understand why his diet had previously been so poor—and later underwent gastric bypass surgery, losing 120 pounds in the process.

But one of the most important lessons Jackson has learned in the process is managing portion sizes—and yet, he hasn't used what many healthcare professionals would consider a traditional method to do so.

"I’ve been vegan and vegetarian and tried all sorts of diets. To me, the airplane meal is the perfect meal because of the portion," Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. "You have a piece of meat the size of your palm. Everything is portioned out, and it’s a little bit of everything. You shouldn’t be eating more than that."

More on healthy portion sizes:

Anyone who has ever enjoyed a meal service on a plane (here's how to select the best option from five different leading airlines, by the way) knows that entrées are often served in petite trays, with pre-portioned compartments that hold individual portions of the meal. And while the concept of using portioned food containers isn't new by any means (many home cooks use them exclusively for meal prep sessions), the idea of preparing meals to solely exist in these portioned trays isn't one that Cooking Light editors have seen before.

Brierley Horton, Cooking Light's nutrition director, says Jackson's approach to portion control is why so many other diets are well-received.

"Using pre-portioned containers takes the guesswork out of portioning, which sounds lame, but it's true," Horton says. "If you don't have to think about it, then it makes it easier to do it. A majority of the most popular diets are either sending you meal replacements (like the HMR Diet), or they're making it extremely easy to understand what, and how much, you should be eating."

Horton says you should take Jackson's advice a step further and make sure you understand the capacity of each compartment in your tray.

"Make sure you're getting things into the right compartments. Measure the food you're placing into them, or measure the compartment itself—you want to make sure you're not placing a cup's worth of pasta into the large compartment but only a third of a cup of broccoli into another," she says. "If you're putting the right amounts of richer foods into smaller compartments, then you're exercising perfect portion control without actually giving up your favorite foods."

We've previously published an illustrated guide to understanding serving sizes for many healthy staples, from chicken breast to legumes and brown rice. Many readers came to understand that appropriate serving sizes are often smaller than one would think, which is why the idea of cooking to fit all elements of a meal into a pre-portioned food container seems to be a promising solution for those who struggle with portion sizes.

Rubbermaid currently sells a model that comes equipped with individualized containers that are clearly marked with food groups to limit larger portions of any one item. It retails for $17.99 on Amazon and is Prime eligible.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.

But more affordable plastic models are also popular with our editors—Amazon's best selling product is labeled as a "Bento box," and is BPA-free as well as dishwasher safe.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.

We once believed that changing the size of our plates could be the key to actually making portions healthy again, but maybe we should just be ditching plates altogether?

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