My husband and I visited a local hospital cafeteria yesterday morning for a bite to eat before an early morning doctor’s appointment. As we were leaving, I briefly caught sight of a chart on the dining room wall that seemed to be comparing the serving size of some food item to a small computer mouse. What? It bothered me all morning. What food could possibly be measured at the size of a computer mouse and not be considered an appetizer? I might feed that portion to my 3-year- old granddaughter. It was time for research. Using the search string of “food serving computer mouse”, I immediately found the site for The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability.
I can remember the days when my mother was on Weight Watchers and she kept a kitchen scale on the counter top. She would measure her food portions as she prepared and served the nightly meal. I never really paid much attention to her servings though I have vague recollection of the size of the recommended four ounces of meat. It was paltry and seemed more like punishment that a good thing. I grew up to be rather generous with food portions for my family and now, in middle age, I face my middle. It is rather hard to miss it.
We all grew up with the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat. Some things almost withstood the winds of change. The new food groups incorporate a more continental menu as well as incorporating the ingredients we never counted. Fats and oils are now counted as a food group. I learned in Home Economics class the nutritional guideline of creating each meal with a color wheel in mind. Serving foods of equal color would be, not only visually bland, but nutritionally bland as well. For instance I should stay away from white fish, white potatoes and white vegetables all in the same meal. Other than those simple guidelines, I was given little from which to create nutritionally sound meals.
After that brief glance at that cafeteria poster yesterday, I became acutely aware of my errors regarding serving sizes for each of the food groups. I could easily see how not knowing how much food I should eat may result in eating hundreds of extra calories. This may, and most likely did, lead to weight gain. We returned home that evening and I prepared two chicken breasts, cut into finger-sized-strips, dredged in egg, dipped in pancake flour and fried in vegetable oil. I’ve always thought that a good rule of thumb was to serve one chicken breast per full grown adult. My husband and I probably exceed the “full grown” by a smidgeon but that was all the more reason to keep to the one piece per person rule. Why increase the serving size in direction proportion to our increased size? It was a delightful meal and we retired to our bed stuffed to the gills.
I successfully avoided my research on serving sizes until now. So, how many chicken breasts are the proper serving for a full grown adult? Maybe it was never obvious before but I can now admit that chickens could also be offered a wide range of cup sizes if they could visit a brazier shop. No two breasts are alike and not many are small enough to be considered a serving size.
The recommended serving size for meat has been decreased to two to three ounces. I don’t want to resurrect my mother’s kitchen scale and can no longer avoid reality by ignoring available information about food servings. An easier way for judging food serving sizes is to make comparisons to familiar objects. For example, the proper serving for meat would appear in size to be that of a cassette tape. The chart also suggests using the palm of an average lady’s hand as a guide, but palm sizes vary greatly. I should probably rely on the cassette tape. That being said, I could stretch my food dollars by at least double if I purchased a cassette-tape-worth of meat per meal for each person.
When it comes to food, I’m extremely fond of fresh vegetables and fresh fruits. If I bring home a 3-pound bunch of bananas, they’ll be eaten before brown spots occur. Seldom have bananas gone into over-ripe mode and the same can be said for most root vegetables and greens. My favorite example in this food group are yams. Yams can weigh up to one pound each and I will usually fix two yams per meal. That means that we each devour one yam with dinner. I feel pretty good about that because I don’t add butter, brown sugar or marshmallows. That’s what I call “behaving ourselves”. I cannot express how reluctant I was to look at the recommended serving size for vegetables. It seems that I should only be offering about one half a yam for each of us. Better stated, the serving size for vegetables (not including leafy greens) is about the size of a light bulb. I’m guessing that they mean to say a traditional 75-Watt light bulb. That change alone could decrease my food budget by about half.
My husband and I usually eat a salad with our dinner. Surely there cannot be a limit on the size of a salad. After my previous discoveries, I’m afraid to look. We can eat one cup of leafy greens. How can I measure one cup of shredded lettuce. The guideline is to assume the equivalent of four leaves of lettuce. Four leaves. That amount of food would starve my neighbor’s pet bunny rabbit.
Other food measurements and comparisons are jaw dropping. The following are all single servings:
1½ ounces of natural cheese = 3 dominoes
2-3 ounces (oz.) of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish = size of your palm or a cassette
½ cup of cooked dry beans = regular light bulb
2 tablespoons of peanut butter = size of a golf ball
1 cup of raw leafy vegetables = 4 lettuce leaves
½ cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw = regular light bulb
1 medium apple or orange, 1 small banana = average women’s fist
½ cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit = regular light bulb
½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta = computer mouse
Medium potato = computer mouse
Average bagel = hockey puck (this is really 2 serving sizes)
My course of action includes going to the local thrift store and buying a light bulb, a golf ball, some dominoes, a hockey puck and a computer mouse to keep in my kitchen “junk drawer”. Call them the 21st century kitchen scales. Bon Appetite.