Portion Sizes & Servings: What's The Difference?

Bhavna Arora, M.D.

Figuring out serving sizes can be confusing, especially when we eat out. As you may have noticed, portions of food and drink at restaurants have increased. I can rarely finish some of those large entrees at restaurants. Combine the large portion sizes with a sedentary lifestyle and we can see why our obesity rates are increasing.

Children are growing up without a proper reference point for healthy food portion sizes because most of what is served to them is more than they really need. While most of us might think that a portion is the same thing as a serving, the two are actually completely different measurements.

A serving is a specific amount of food or drink that is defined by common measurements, such as cups, ounces, or tablespoons. Examples include recommended servings from MyPlate (the amount kids should eat) and the serving size on a Nutrition Facts label, which is the basis for all the other nutrition information printed on the label.

In many cases, the serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts label is different from the MyPlate recommended serving size. In fact, many of the MyPlate serving sizes are smaller than those listed on the Nutrition Facts label!

A portion is basically the amount of food that happens to end up on the plate. Think of portion size as the actual amount of food kids choose to eat at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. Portions can be bigger or smaller than the recommended serving size.

Below is a helpful way to look at serving sizes:

Not All Servings Are Created Equal
As you may have already guessed, a serving of one type of food might be larger or smaller than servings of other food types. That's because the serving size is based on the nutrients in the food, not the physical size (that would be a portion!).

How many servings does your child need each day?
Keep in mind children are constantly growing and in need of a variety of vitamins and minerals to assist them. They experience many changes and need adequate fuel to support these changes. It’s important to remember that every child is different and requires a unique meal plan that takes into consideration their level of physical activity.