Getting food portion sizes right

Getting food portion sizes right

Getting the portion sizes of the food you serve right helps you to eat, buy and prepare the correct amount of food for the nutritional needs of your family. It also means you can save money by planning and shopping for food more efficiently and reduce the amount of food wasted.

Is there a problem with food portion sizes in the UK?

Research in 2013 by the British heart Foundation showed that consumers are confused about portion sizes*. Consumers find front-of-pack information unclear which makes it hard to serve food in nutritionally appropriate portions.

Have portions sizes got bigger?

Portion sizes for certain foods in the UK have grown since the government last surveyed portion sizes in the 1990’s. For example:

  • portion sizes for white bread slices have increased, particularly for medium sized bread
  • premium/luxury cookies are now available and likely to be larger and more energy dense than traditional biscuits
  • the portion size of pizzas, meat products, and potato products/ savoury snacks varies enormously making it hard for consumers to know what portion size to buy and serve
  • individual servings for ready meals has increased

Does it matter?

Yes. When people are presented with larger portion sizes they eat more and they do not compensate by eating smaller portions at other times as a way of managing their overall energy intake. This is one of the reasons why overweight and obesity have become more common.

Are food portion sizes regulated?

There is currently no legislation within the UK relating to requirements in food portion size. This means that food retailers, manufacturers and caterers draw on a number of different sources that offer guidance on appropriate portion sizes. There is currently no up to date guidance of portion sizes leaving the field wide open for food to be served in a wide variety of portion sizes.

Controlling food portions in the home

A key way to managing weight and meeting nutritional needs is portion control. Even a ‘healthy diet’ will cause weight gain if eaten in the wrong portions.

The healthy portion plate

Most dinner plates and bowls are too large which can make portion control challenging. Having the right size plate makes it easier to avoid overfilling your plate and your stomach. Aim for your dinner plate or bowl to be less than 25 centimetres (10 inches) wide.

A simple ‘trick’ of how to achieve food portion control is to fill:

  • half of your lunch and dinner plate with salad or vegetables,
  • a quarter with lean protein
  • a quarter with carbohydrates

Maintaining this rule at home should help you and your family to get into the habit of eating a balanced meal and educate them as to what are correct, healthy portion sizes.

Useful portion sizes when cooking for friends and family

When you are shopping and cooking for a family it is useful to know some handy portion sizes when preparing main meals.



Dry/uncooked weight per person (g)



Starchy foods






This makes a good-sized bowl/plate of cooked pasta.


Basmati rice


This is a great serving size to accompany curries.


Risotto rice


This makes a good-sized bowl/plate of risotto.




200g (medium)

Mashed, roasted or boiled this is a great portion size to serve with meat and fish.


Meat & fish




Chicken breast


Great for casseroles or grilled chicken dishes.


Lean stewing beef or a steak




Minced beef


This portion size is great for making a Bolognese sauce


White fish fillets e.g. cod


This is an ideal portion size for baked or grilled fish. Also, a good portion size for fish stew and a fish pie.


Oily fish e.g. smoked salmon and mackerel


Some oily fish tends to be strong in flavour and contain more calories hence the smaller portion size.


Dairy foods




Hard cheese

30g (match box size)

Use this portion size for filling sandwiches and eating with crackers.







80g (3 tablespoons)

It is important to eat at least five, 80g portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The greater variety of fruit and vegetables you eat the better for your health.





Green vegetables e.g. broccoli and cabbage




* Portion distortion. How much are we really eating? British Heart Foundation 2013

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