When learning proper portions, your child does not have to give up their favorite foods. Instead, enjoy your favorite foods as the treats they are intended to be in smaller portions and eaten less often.

Tips for proper portion control

Start small

  • Cook smaller meals. When you make more, you eat more. Put leftovers away quickly.
  • Start with a small serving. Your child can get more later if they are hungry. When eating out, order a small, regular or child-sized meal.
  • Eat regular meals and snacks. It is easier to be satisfied with smaller portions if you eat more often.

Plate it well

  • Use small dishes. Small dishes make food servings look larger on the plate.
  • Never eat out of the bag or container. This can lead to overeating. Take a small portion and put the rest away.

Slow down

  • Slowly eat half of the meal or snack. Then, wait 20 minutes. It takes time for your brain to understand you are full. By eating slower, your child will be satisfied and eat smaller portions.
  • When you eat out, share meals or pack half of the meal to take home. Restaurant meals are 2- 4 times larger than your child needs.
  • Do not skip meals. This leads to overeating later when you are hungry.

Proper portion sizes

When you do not have measuring tools nearby, here are helpful tips to measure proper portions:

  • 1 teaspoon = 1 dice or the size of your fingertip
  • 2 tablespoons = A ping pong ball
  • 1 ounce (oz.) of nuts or candy = 1 handful
  • 1 oz. of chips or pretzels = 2 handfuls
  • 3 oz. of cooked meat = A deck of cards or the palm of your hand (the space without fingers)
  • 1 cup = The size of your fist
  • 1 medium piece of fruit = A tennis ball
  • 1 pancake = A CD

A word about water…

Water is the most important nutrient in your body. It also makes up a good part of your body weight.

Water helps move nutrients through the body, gets rid of waste and helps control body temperature. It also provides cushioning between joints, helps organs work properly and helps with digestion.

Here are tips to help your child drink more water:

  • Aim for 8 cups of water or more per day. Try to drink a glass with every meal.
  • Drink water regularly, even if your child it not thirsty. Do not rely on feelings of thirst.
  • Carry a water bottle everywhere.
  • Drink several glasses of water before, during and after physical activity.

Which drinks and portions are better choices for my child?

These boxes can help your child make good choices when it comes to drinks, dishes and utensils used for proper portion sizes.

Red light drinks
These are drinks that your child should choose less often than green light drinks.

  • Sports drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Sweetened tea or coffee with whole milk with or before a meal
  • Regular soda

Green light drinks
These are drinks that your child can choose more often than red light drinks.

  • Plain or fizzy water
  • Fruit juice diluted (watered down) with water
  • Unsweetened, decaffeinated tea or coffee (hot or iced) after a meal
  • Diet or decaffeinated soda (only if there are no other options)

Red light dishes and utensils
Your child should use these dishes and utensils less often than green light dishes and utensils.

  • Large plates and bowls
  • Large utensils
  • Dessert or cereal bowl
  • Small glass of water with a meal

Green light dishes and utensils
These dishes and utensils can help your child stay on track with proper portions.

  • Small plates and bowls
  • Small utensils
  • Ramekin or dip bowl for desserts
  • Large glass of water with a meal

Rev. 4/2019. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.