PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Food Smarts: Serving Size Surprises

If you've talked or read about nutrition, you've probably heard the term "serving," as in "Try to get about 3 servings of milk, cheese, or yogurt every day." This system sounds easy, but when you stop to think about it, just what exactly is a serving? Is it big, small, or somewhere in between? Your idea of a serving might not match somebody else's.

To clear up any confusion, the new government nutrition guidelines don't use the term "serving." Instead they use real measurements -- ounces and cups. So basically, when we talk about a cup of milk, it's just that: a measuring cup with milk up to the "one cup" line. Simple right? Well-there are some tricky bits here and there, but we'll show you how to think about it so it's all easy-cheesy (cheese-milk-get it?).

For example, portions from the Grain group are measured in ounces. Eating 6 ounces of bread, grains, pasta, and rice a day can sound like an awful lot. Is that like 6 whole loaves of bread? Thankfully, no! In fact, an ounce is pretty small. Here's an example:

1 ounce of bread = 1 regular sized slice
1 regular sized slice is about the size of a CD and as think as your finger!

A sandwich made with 2 slices of regular bread equals 2 ounces from the grain group -- that's a third of what you should get in a day! If you're used to eating really big or thick bread slices, you might be looking at two ounces per slice-or 4 ounces per sandwich. 4 ounces out of a daily 6-that's two thirds of your grains! And one of those giant muffins you get at the bakery might be three ounces or more-half your daily grains just on breakfast, and you've still got lunch and dinner to think about!

Here are some more examples of ounces and cups in each of the Food Pyramid groups.

Grains: (Get about 6 ounces a day)
1 ounce of grains =

  • 1/2 cup of oatmeal or other hot cereal
  • About 1 cup of dry cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked pasta or rice
  • 1/2 of an English muffin

Think of it this way:
1/2 cup is about the size of a hockey puck!
1 cup is about the size of a baseball or a fist!


Vegetables: (Get about 2 to 2.5 cups a day)
1 cup of vegetables =
  • 1 cup of most raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice
  • 2 medium carrots or a dozen baby carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato or 1 medium white potato
  • 2 cups raw leafy green vegetables (like lettuce). Yep, when counting raw leafy green veggies, two cups only counts as one!


Fruits: (Get about 1.5 to 2 cups a day)
1 cup of fruit =

  • 1 small apple (2.5" diameter)
  • 1 large banana (8" to 9" long)
  • 1 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit like applesauce or fruit salad
  • 1 cup of fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit

Think of it this way:
A medium piece of fruit is about the size of a baseball!


Dairy (Milk): (Get about 3 cups a day)
1 cup of dairy =

  • 1 cup of milk (a half pint container)
  • 1 cup of yogurt ( a regular 8 ounce container)
  • 1.5 ounces of natural cheese (like cheddar or Swiss)
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese (like American cheese slices)

Think of it this way:
1 1/2 ounces of cheese is about the size of two dominoes!


Meat and Beans: (Get about 5 to 5.5 ounces a day)
1 ounce of meat or beans =
  • 1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/4 cup of cooked dry beans or 1/4 cup of tofu
  • 1 slice sandwich turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds
So:
1 small steak = 3.5 to 4 ounces
1 small chicken breast = 3 ounces
1 small lean hamburger = 2 to 3 ounces
1 can tuna = 3 to 4 ounces
1 salmon steak = 4 to 6 ounces
1 cup split pea, lentil or bean soup = 2 ounces
1 soy burger = 2 ounces

Think of it this way:
A small steak or chicken breast poultry is about the size of a deck of cards!

Remember: A lot of foods you eat will contain servings from more than one food group.

  • A cheeseburger might be 3 ounces of meat, 1/2 cup of cheese, 2 ounces of bread (the bun), and 1/2 cup of vegetables (the lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions).

  • A medium sized slice of pepperoni pizza probably contains 1 ounce of bread (the crust), 1/2 cup of vegetables (the tomato sauce), 1 cup of cheese, and an ounce or two of meat (the pepperoni). Eat three slices, and you've got 3 ounces of bread, 1 and 1/2 cups of vegetables, 3 cups of cheese and at least 3 ounces of meat. This means you've eaten all the dairy (milk) products you need for the whole day, and over half of the meat.

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