What is a Serving?

plate of veggies

It’s important to fuel your body properly. Otherwise, caregiving can take a greater toll.

A healthy diet emphasizes certain foods and recommends a number of servings per day. But you may have a question: Just what counts as a serving, anyway?

It’s a great question. It can be easy to consider too much as a single serving, especially with tasty foods we like.

Here’s a breakdown for several kinds of foods:

Grains: ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or cooked cereal; 1 oz. dry pasta or rice; 1 slice bread; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes.

Vegetables: 1 cup equivalent of vegetables is 1 cup raw vegetable or vegetable juice, 2 cups leafy salad greens.

Fruits: 1 cup equivalent is 1 cup fruit or ½ cup of fruit juice (orange juice, etc.) or 1/3 cup of a fruit juice blend.

Protein foods (meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and nuts): 1 oz. equivalent is 1 oz. lean meat, poultry or seafood; 2 egg whites or 1 egg; ¼ cup cooked beans; 1 tbsp. peanut butter; ½ oz. unsalted nuts/seeds. Note that ¼ cup cooked beans = 1 oz. protein equivalent but ½ cup cooked beans = 1 vegetable.

Dairy foods (milk, yogurt and cheese): 1 cup equivalent is 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1½ oz. natural cheese such as cheddar cheese, or 2 oz. processed cheese.

Helpful rules of thumb

Here are a few helpful serving size guidelines to remember:

  • One cup of raw leafy vegetables or a baked potato should be about the size of a small fist.
  • Three ounces of cooked lean meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • A teaspoon of soft margarine is about the size of a single die (from a pair of dice).
  • An ounce and a half of fat-free or low-fat cheese is about the size of four stacked dice.

Consider setting a goal to eat healthy 80 percent of the time. You can use the remaining 20 percent for an occasional treat, or for times when you’re crunched for time and have to prioritize convenience over nutrition.

And here’s food for thought: Once you start eating right, it will be easier to get your loved one started on some heart-healthy, nutritious habits too.

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