How to Measure Food Portions Without a Scale

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Would you be able to serve yourself 3 ounces of chicken if you didn't have a scale handy? What does 3 ounces of chicken look like?

If you are trying to lose weight, it's helpful to eat healthy amounts of nutritious foods, like chicken. Learning to measure food portions can be a handy skill. Many people do it with a digital kitchen scale. But what if you don't have one or you're away from home? Don't worry. Measuring food portions without a scale is easy if you know how to use simple tools that are always on hand.

How to Measure Food Portions With Your Hand

Measuring food is easy if you use a tool that's always nearby: your hand. The actual amount of food your hand can hold will depend on the size of your hand and on the type of food that you are measuring. Use this list as a general guide to estimate basic serving size equivalents.

one serving of nuts
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

One level handful = 1/4 cup. A single serving of nuts is 1 ounce or 1/4 to 1/3 cup.

one serving of dry pasta
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

One heaping handful = 1/2 cup. A single serving of dry pasta is roughly 1/2 cup.

Two hands full = 1 cup. A single serving of cooked pasta is usually 1 cup.

one serving of butter
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

One finger scoop = 1 teaspoon. A single serving of butter or oil is often 1 teaspoon.

one serving of peanut butter
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Two finger scoop = 1 tablespoon. A single serving of peanut butter is usually 2 tablespoons or two 2-finger scoops.

closed fist to show serving size of fruit or vegetable
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

You can also use your hand to measure food portions of meat and produce. For example, a single 3-ounce serving of chicken, beef, or fish is roughly the size of your palm. A 1-cup serving of fruit or vegetables is roughly the size of your closed fist. A single serving of cheese is about the size of your thumb.

How to Measure Food Portions With a Plate

Many people use their plates to estimate portion sizes. This works well for some, but dinner plates come in different sizes. So it's important to take the plate size into consideration when trying to determine serving size equivalents. Smaller plates for salad or appetizers are usually 8 or 9 inches across. A large dinner plate can measure 10–12 inches across.

  • 1/4 of an 8-inch plate: 1/2 to 3/4 cups
  • 1/4 of a 10.5-inch plate: 1 to 1 1/2 cups
  • 1/2 of an 8-inch plate: 1 1/2 to 2 cups
  • 1/2 of a 10.5-inch plate: 3 cups

Measuring Food With Portion Control Plates

Sometimes, people trying to lose weight use portion control plates and portion control glasses to make sure they are eating and drinking the right amount. Products like livliga dishes, glasses, and serving pieces don't look like "diet dishes" but provide guidance about portion size. But there are many brands on the market at different price points. 

You can also turn your regular plates into portion control plates using the USDA My Plate icon as your guide. The colorful plate picture shows how much protein, fruit, vegetables, healthy grains, and dairy you should eat at mealtime. You can use the image at home to remind yourself and teach your kids how to prepare and eat healthy meals. 

Food Portions and Weight Loss

It can be tricky to make sure you are eating the correct portion of food if you are trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, you can't rely on package size. Many food packages that look like they provide a single serving of food actually provide enough for two or even three servings.

The Nutrition Facts label may give you a good idea of a reasonable serving size. But the number listed is not the recommended serving size. It is the amount of food typically consumed. If you're dining out, eating the right portion size can be even trickier. Most entrees can serve two or three people. To eat less in a restaurant, plan to split an entree with a friend.

Or order an appetizer for your main meal to make sure you aren't eating too much. Remember that when you're trying to lose weight, calories and portion size matters—but other factors matter as well. Food quality and nutrition are important for good health and for weight loss.

For example, a large portion of spinach is more nutritious than a small portion of ice cream. And a large portion of spinach provides nutrients (like fiber) that can boost satiety. The bottom line is that portion control can be one tool to help you reach a healthy weight, but choosing wholesome, satisfying foods is likely to be the key to long-term weight management and wellness.

A Word From Verywell

Simple lifestyle skills, like measuring your food portions, can make your healthy eating plan easier to follow. Take some time and learn to master tasks like learning how to cut 3 ounces of chicken without a scale, checking food sizes, reading nutritional labels, and checking ingredient lists. And the process can be fun! Bolster your food know-how and you'll find that eating well becomes a snap. 

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Canadian Diabetes Association. Handy Portion Guide. April 2014.

  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Portion Size. August 20, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. MyPlate.