March 8, 2017

March 8 is National “What’s on Your Plate” Day – Understanding the Importance of Portion Size

By Laura Tolle
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator

March 8 is National “What’s on Your Plate” Day. As a dietitian/nutritionist, I dread it when people look at my plate and into my grocery cart. It’s not easy to always eat what you are supposed to. I get it. The days are busy, and kids have appointments at opposite sides of town within 15 minutes of each other. How do we fit in eating at least five fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein made all from scratch? I have to make it simple or I’m not going to make it!

Let’s break this down. What should a plate look like? First off how big is your plate? Since the 1960s, plate sizes have increased 36 percent. We used to eat on 8-inch plates, and today our plates measure 11-12 inches across. This allows us extra space to add more food. Portions in restaurants are 30-50 percent larger than what we eat at home. More food = more calories eaten = weight gain.

Research by Brian Wansink, PhD, Chair and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, shows that package size, serving size and dishware size influence how much we eat.

The increase in serving sizes creates a new norm that affects our intake. Unfortunately, we underestimate our intake as well. Research also shows that we become less accurate of our intake as portion sizes increase.

Portion distortion, value meals and clean-the-plate clubs have been impacting people’s waistlines for years. How do we turn this around and become more mindful about what we eat? I encourage you to think first about your plate and set yourself up for success before you even think about what is on it.

  • Choose small luncheon plates
  • Use small drinking glasses and mugs
  • Take half of what is on your plate at a restaurant and put it in a to go bag
  • Order lunch-size portions
  • Serve food on your plate instead of family style
  • Keep large platters off of the table to prevent easy seconds
Look around your kitchen and pantry to see how you can make some of these small adjustments to your home and meal times. The book Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life by Brian Wansink has several resources. His website provides lists or scorecards to help you assess how your environment is helping or hurting your efforts in your wellness goals. It may mean making simple adjustments to the size of your plates, where you are eating your meals and moving the snacks from the counter to your cupboard. This is a great first step at setting yourself up for success!

Laura Tolle is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator with Mission Health – MyHealthyLife Wellness, where she supports the Healthy Weight and Wellness Coaching programs for Mission employees, employers and the western North Carolina community.

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