What’s a serving size?


September 24, 2008

One commenter asked a question a while back that I could relate to: “Any suggestions on measuring ‘servings’ without having to put everything I eat into a measuring cup?”

I’ve seen all kinds of advice on this subject, from “a handful” (of broken cauliflowerettes or sliced zucchini) to a “medium-sized” fill-in-the-blank (carrot, lemon cucumber, russet potato, avocado, etc.), to a “soup-bowl full” (for salad greens).

Just how many servings of vegetables are in this salade niçoise?

The BBC published a set of guidelines for serving size. And the USDA has a good visual guide — click on the blue bar labeled “View Vegetables Food Gallery” — although it’s limited in scope.

What surprises me in these guidelines is how small the portions seem to be, at least for such things as corn and broccoli and (on the BBC) “mushy peas.” Did you know that just two slices of red onion qualifies as a serving? However, a few items seem rather hard to fathom. An entire sweet potato, for example, is daunting; half seems like a generous portion to me.

And the serving question is complicated by things like Roasted Vegetable Lasagna, a delicious portion of which I had the other day for lunch. How many veggies are there in that? Given the fact that the whole thing could fill a cup — noodles and all — I’m guessing the vegetable portion was about half a cup, or one serving. But what variety! Snow peas, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, and of course tomatoes. Maybe, based on sheer scope, that should count as two servings?

Too bad we can’t wear a vegetable pedometer that could gauge for us whether we’re eating our daily fill. Instead, we have to rely on our estimating abilities — and our appetites.

Both of which — for me anyway — are less than perfect.

There are 4 comments on this item
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1. by Linda on Sep 25, 2008 at 11:42 AM PDT

To clarify, two slices of red onion is a 1/4 serving of vegetables, accoridng to your source

2. by anonymous on Sep 25, 2008 at 12:01 PM PDT

Almost every day, I have a salad for lunch. I fill an 8-cup container half full with mixed field greens, then the rest of the way with other vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, and green beans -- whatever is on hand. This way, I can be sure I’m getting in my servings of veggies and eating a wide variety of dark greens, green vegetables, and orange vegetables.

3. by Kim on Sep 26, 2008 at 7:40 AM PDT

Thanks, Linda, for checking my math. In fact, the USDA chart says that two onion slices equal a quarter cup, which by my calculation is a half of a vegetable serving. It’s nice to know onion counts at all! Anonymous, yours in an inspiring approach. I’m going to try it a couple of days a week.

4. by KitchenParade on Sep 30, 2008 at 8:33 AM PDT

On my blog about vegetables, A Veggie Venture, I allow a pound of vegetables to serve four. These are large servings (except for potatoes, which somehow seem skimpy and for zucchini which cooks down so much) but for vegetables, that’s GOOD.

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