Your average serving sizes visually defined


How you can do nutritional math in your head, visually

Most clients I have met over the last 12 years have not known the visual cues for proper serving sizes in the main food groups. This can be attributed to the fact that we have grown so accustomed to reading what it is on a box, a can, or a bag of food that we have not learned anything ourselves about the caloric count of what we eat as whole, fresh foods.

While I am not an obsessive calorie-counter because I preach a focus on quality over quantity, we do need to know how much of this quality we need. (See the word I used there? NEED vs WANT.) Over time, I boosted my own confidence in visually identified proper portions for food groups and putting it together to define an ideal meal time “plate” visually as well.

I will admit, it takes practice and some awkward plate shifting, analyzing, + general touching of your food- but with practice, you will start to immediately identify the standard visuals. See below for the 3 main steps to learning your visuals.

The approximate gram counts and calorie counts per serving of a major food group is below:


A good rule of thumb is to memorize this initially
  • Carbohydrates: 1 serving = 15 grams/80 calories
  • Protein: 1 serving of lean = 7 grams/55 calories, 1 serving of extra lean = 7 grams/35 calories
  • Vegetables: 1 serving = 15 grams/25 calories
  • Fruits: 1 serving = 15 grams/60 calories
  • Fats/Oils: 1 serving = 5 grams/45 calories

Here is this information in real-life servings:

  • Grains/Starches (15g = 1 serving) includes:

1 slice of bread, 1 roll, ½ C cereal, rice, or pasta, ½ tortilla, 6-8 small crackers, ½ bagel, pita, English muffin, or bun, ½ C potatoes, peas, or corn, 1/3 C beans

  • Fruit (15g = 1 serving) includes:

1 piece medium fruit (ex: kiwi), ½ C cut fresh fruit, ½ C fresh juice, ½ C apple sauce (natural), ¼ C dried fruit (no sugar added), 15 grapes

  • Dairy (15g = 1 serving) includes:

1/2 C milk substitute, ½ C Soy-based yogurt, Note: cheese is not dairy, it’s protein

  • Vegetables (15g = 1 serving) includes:

½ C cooked veggies, 1C salad greens, 1C raw veggies, doesn’t include the higher starch veggies: carrots, peas, or potatoes

  • Protein (7g = 1 serving) includes:

¼ C Tuna (canned), 1 oz or slice of soy cheese, 2 oz of crab, lobster, or shrimp, 1 slice luncheon meet, 1 oz. poultry, fish, pork

  • Fats/Oils (5g = 1 serving) includes:

1 tsp butter/margarine, 1 tsp peanut/nut butter, 1 TB of most dressings, 1 tsp oil, 1 tsp seeds or nuts

Serving Sizes In Real Life Visuals

If you are out to eat and cannot decide how to make this more user-friendly, you can visualize the proper portion sizes easily with these helpful visual clues.


  • Thumb tip or small marble: 1 tsp (to measure: oils)
  • Thumb tip to first knuckle or large marble; 1 TB (to measure: butter or nut butters)
  • Thumb or 2 large marbles: 2 TB solid food (to measure: nuts) or 1 ounce liquid (to measure: salad dressing, sauces, etc.)
  • Golf ball or cupped handful: ¼ cup (to measure: beans, rice, etc.)
  • Hockey puck or the inside of your palm from wrist to fingertips: 3 ounces (to measure: cooked meat, poultry, or fish)
  • A 4×6 photograph: a slice of bread/whole grain
  • Tennis ball: ½ C (to measure: fruit)
  • Your fist, clenched, or a baseball: 1 C (to measure: vegetables)

Meanwhile, while learning to connect these visuals to food servings in your brain, you can utilize the plate method where, at lunch and dinner, visually this is your portion equation:

  • YOUR PLATE =  1/2 vegetables + 1/4 lean protein + 1/4 whole grain starch (served with minimal  sauce/dressings which serve as your fats)
Time to get learning- try to teach yourself these visual cues so that you can learn how to monitor your daily intake.