Serving Sizes for Common Foods

The Best Serving Sizes for Chicken, Cereal, Hamburger, and More

Measuring Portion Sizes

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No matter what kind of food you are eating, serving size matters. Even if you are eating nutrient-dense foods, it's helpful to be mindful of what you consume. This can help you eat a balanced diet with lots of variety.

For many commonly eaten foods, it is easy to consume portions that may be larger than you intend. And if you are tracking your intake of calories, fat, sodium, or sugar for weight loss or health needs, you need to know the serving size you're eating to get your nutrition facts right.

The serving sizes listed on labels are not necessarily the recommended portion size. It is simply the amount that most people consume when they sit down to eat that particular food. It might also be the amount of food listed in your automated food log or diet app.

Cereal

Whole grain cereal
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When is the last time you measured your cereal before pouring it into a bowl? Have you ever checked the Nutrition Facts label to determine the serving size it refers to?

For some cereals, one cup is the recommended serving size, and nutrition facts (number of calories, amount of sodium and so on) are given for that amount. But the American Diabetes Association suggests consuming a 3/4 cup serving.

If you pour your cereal straight into the bowl, chances are you are eating up to two servings. And if you refill the bowl (as many of us do), you may be eating three to four servings.

Chicken Breast

Chicken
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Lean protein is nutritious, but how much protein you need depends on several factors unique to you, including body size and composition, activity level, age, and more.

The recommended single portion of chicken is 3 to 4 ounces, about the size of a deck of playing cards. Some people use the palm of their hand as a guide. Depending on the vendor, some chicken breasts are two or three times the recommended serving size. 

A 3-ounce serving of chicken breast contains 128 calories, 26 grams of protein, and 2.7 grams of fat. You may do best with more or less than this, depending on your needs.

Hamburger

Hamburger
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you count your hamburger patty as one serving of beef, you might underestimate the calories you've consumed.

A quarter-pound burger (4 ounces) is slightly larger than the recommended serving size of 3 ounces. But many burgers, especially those served at restaurants, are 1/3 to 1/2 pound or more. You might be eating more calories and saturated fat than you expected.

Coffee Creamer

pouring coffee creamer into a glass of iced coffee
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Adding flavored creamer to your morning cup of java also adds fat and calories. Fat-free varieties typically have added sugars to compensate for taste, so they still contain calories.

A single serving of liquid creamer is one tablespoon. When you add cream to your coffee, do you pull out a measuring spoon? Probably not. If you are drinking more than the recommended serving (remember to count each cup of coffee!), the added sugar in your fat-free creamer starts to add up quickly.

The best way to manage portion control is to measure your foods with inexpensive kitchen tools like a measuring cup, spoons, or a digital scale. You can also measure foods without a scale, but calibrated tools are more accurate.

Cooking Spray

spraying cooking spray into a muffin tin
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You might skip the oil or butter when you cook at home. This is a good way to reduce calories and fat in your meals. But if you are counting calories, you need to account for the calories in your cooking spray.

A single serving of PAM spray is the amount in a spray lasting just 1/4 of one second. A more typical three-second spray has 60 calories and 3 grams of fat.

Bread

Bread
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you pack yourself a lunch of a lean meat and vegetable sandwich on whole-grain bread, you are likely consuming a more nutritionally balanced meal than you would if you chose to dine out.

But did you accurately record the calories in your whole grain bread? A single serving is usually only one slice of bread.

Fruit

fruit platter of blueberries, bananas, apples, and more
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

A serving of fresh fruit is an excellent alternative to a high-fat dessert. But if you are counting your calories or watching your sugar intake, you may wish to monitor how much you are eating.

For example, if you eat a bowl of grapes, you might add one serving of grapes to your food diary. But a single serving of grapes is only one cup, or 16 grapes. For more accurate serving sizes, you can try weighing your fruit by the gram.

Fruit is highly nutrient-dense and filling due to water and fiber content. It is hard to derail a diet by eating a bit more fruit than you planned to. Remember that nutrient density is much more important than calorie counts for healthy eating and weight balance.

Soda

soda
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Sugary drinks are one of the easiest things to overconsume. And the calories and sugar in soda add up, even if you only drink one a day.

A serving size of Coke is 12 ounces, and has 144 calories and 39 grams of sugar. But most of us drink more than that when we fill up at the soda fountain. A 7-11 Double Gulp contains 50 ounces, which is 600 calories and 162 grams of sugar.

Salad Dressing

Creamy salad dressing
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

A salad loaded with veggies is a high-fiber, nutrient-dense alternative to a high-starch, high-fat meal. But salad dressing can add calories and fat. By some estimates, many restaurant salads contain over 500 calories, most often due to the fatty dressing.

A serving size of salad dressing is just two tablespoons. If you're away from home and you order your dressing on the side, be aware that you may get much more than that.

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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. American Diabetes Association. Food and portion size.

  2. FoodData Central. PAM no-stick cooking spray, original. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  3. FoodData Central. Coca Cola bottle. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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