Nutrition Serving Sizes

For people with who are losing weight, trying to make healthy adjustments to their diet, or attempting to control medical conditions, such as diabetes, through diet, watching calorie intake is a major priority. Some people, especially for those using diet to help control disease, are asked by their doctors to measure the amount and type of food eaten. For many, this can become a hassle, particularly when particular servings of food are restricted to a certain number of ounces.

Most people don’t have a device for measuring such an exact amount, so they need to resort to approximations of a serving size. Here are a few ways to approximate your serving sizes:

  • 1 cup (8 fl oz) is 2/3 of a can of soda (12 fl oz).
  • 1 cup of food is about a large handful or two ice cream scoops.
  • 1 tbsp is the size of the tip of your thumb (from the crease to the tip).
  • 1 tsp is the size of the tip of your pinky finger (from the crease to the tip).

If you are trying to lose or maintain weight, select the low calorie foods in each category. High calorie foods should play a very small role in your healthy diet.

Serving Sizes for Grain, Pasta, Bread

This group of food is the foundation of that fancy food pyramid you’ve most likely heard about. In this food group, you’ll find food items such as rice, pasta, bagels, and cereal. Six to eleven servings of this food group a day is recommended. But how much is a single serving of food? Well, each serving contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates, but that still isn’t very helpful, is it? Below is a list of grains, pastas, and breads and the amount that is approximately one serving.

Serving Size Calories (approx.)
1/4 bagel (approximately 1 ounce) 50
1/2 hot dog or hamburger bun 50
1/2 English muffin 65
1 slice of bread (4-inch square) 70
1 tortilla (6-inch diameter) 70
1/2 pita bread (6-inch diameter) 70
1/3 cup cooked rice 70
2 rice cakes (4-inch diameter) 70
1/2 cup cooked dried beans (kidney, pinto, lentil, lima, etc.) 70-100
1/2 cup cooked pasta 80
6 saltine crackers 84
1/2 cup corn (or 1 regular-sized cob of corn) 85
8 animal crackers 88
1/2 cup cooked cereal 90
3/4 cup dry cereal 90-140
1 small baked potato (size of a standard computer mouse) 104
1/2 cup cooked green peas 110
3 graham crackers (in a 2 1/2-inch square) 120
1 small dinner roll (2-inch square) 140

A Note on Selecting Grains, Breads and Pasta: When making a selection, lean towards the complex carbohydrates: whole grain breads and pastas. Avoid those containing simple carbohydrates, such as refined flour (even if it is enriched!).

Fruit and Vegetable Serving Sizes

Fruits and vegetables make up the next level of the food pyramid. While some may remember fruits and vegetables as one group, they’ve now been separated.

Three to five servings of fruit (apples, oranges, grapes, grapefruit, etc.) a day is recommended. Each fruit serving has about 15 grams of carbohydrates. Below is a list of fruits that approximate one serving.

Fruit Serving Size Calories (approx.)
1 cup melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, etc. but not watermelon) 39-55
2 small plums 40
17 small grapes or 12 large grapes 45
1 kiwi 45
1 medium apple, orange, or peach 50-60
1 small banana 60
1 1/4 cup strawberries 65
3/4 cup fruit juice 80
2 tbsp raisins or any dried fruit 120
1 1/2 cup watermelon 162
1/2 cup fruit canned in water varies

You should also eat three to five servings of vegetables (lettuce, celery, spinach, etc.) a day, but each serving of vegetables only has 5 grams of carbohydrates:

  • 1 serving raw vegetables = 1 cup
  • 1 serving cooked vegetables = 1/2 cup
Vegetable Serving Size Calories (approx.)
asparagus 10
spinach 10
broccoli 15
lettuce 15
bamboo (canned) 18
mushrooms 18
green beans 20
tomato 20
carrots 22
watercress 25
eggplant 26
cauliflower 30
leek 32
beets 35
onions 40
zucchini 40
squash 100

Dairy Serving Size

Dairy is an important part of a healthy diet, but watch your intake because many dairy products are high in fat and carbohydrates. Two to four servings of dairy a day is recommended (each serving contains 12 grams of carbohydrates and 300mg/30% of the recommended daily amount of calcium). Below are examples foods that equal one serving of dairy.

Dairy Serving Size Calories (approx.)
1/2 cup evaporated milk 80
1 cup skim, 1%, or 2% milk 85-120
1 1/2 ounces of low-fat natural cheeses (e.g. Swiss cheese) 135 (Swiss)
1 cup yogurt 180
2 ounces of low-fat processed cheeses (e.g. American cheese) 200 (American)

Protein Serving Sizes

Protein is an important part of a balanced diet. You should have about four to eight ounces of protein a day. When choosing meats avoid the skin and fatty cuts. Stick with skinless poultry, fish, and leaner cuts of meat. Of course you can get your protein in other ways, such as by eating tofu and peanut butter. Here are a few examples that equal 1 ounce of protein.

Protein Serving Size Calories (approx.)
1/2 cup tofu 30-60
1/4 cup cottage cheese 50
1 egg 75
1 tbsp peanut butter 95


Meat Serving Sizes Calories (approx.)
3 oz low fat meat (chicken breast, beef loin or round, pork loin, fish) 115
3 oz medium fat meat (dark chicken meats, ground beef, prime rib, pork chop or cutlet, veal cutlet) 225
3 oz high fat meat (pork sausage, spare ribs, lunch meat) 300

Three ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.

Fat Serving Size

Fats are high calorie foods and should represent the smallest portion of a healthy diet. You should have no more than two to four servings a day. One serving is approximately:

Fat Serving Size Calories (approx.)
1/8 of an avocado 35
1 tsp vegetable oil 40
1 tsp peanut butter 45
6 almonds or cashews 60-80
10 peanuts 60-80
8 ripe olives 85
1 tbsp salad dressing 70-100

Monitoring Servings of Food

The types of foods you eat and the serving sizes of each food will determine the number of calories and nutrients you receive. Try to eat plenty of healthy, low calorie foods such as whole grain, fruits and vegetables while limiting the number of high calorie foods (fats and fatty meats) eaten. Monitoring the number of servings of each food category is an important part of maintaining a healthy diet. Now it’s more than simply watching what you eat, healthy eating also means watching how much you eat.