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How do people portion size at home?

Another thread is interesting in that the subject of portion sizes in restaurants are too little, too big, too... There are those that want large for doggie seconds, those that like smaller, those restos that load it up and those that vertically integrate to give the impression of more tha there.

Jfood wonders how people handle the same situation at home. jfood is very much into portion control in the every day dinner plans. Rare are there leftovers (except for roasts) and at times jfood uses a scale to guide the family in understanding what "correct" portion sizes look like.

Granted jfood is lucky that there are great grocers on the way home from the office so buying is a daily event, so he does not need to plan the week and buy everything on Sundays.

But he is curious if people double-cook so two meals can be made at once? Do people plan for leftovers and then have pot-lucks one night? Just curious how others handle the weekly dinner plans?

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  1. jfood - i expect there will be as wide a range of answers here as there were in the related thread on restaurant portions. I'm a single person, but I like to cook, and I like my own cooking. That means I will often cook enough for more than one meal, especially if it is something like spagetti or chili or stew... etc. Even baking a potato for one is kinda silly. They are not quite as good zapped the next day in the micro, but still a treat.

    The big problem with cooking a double or more amount is that through some mysterious process, often the second portion has disappeased by the next meal time. The mystery deepens as there is a direct correlation between the disappearing food and the ever increasing erroroneous reading on my bathroom scale.

    1 Reply
    1. re: KaimukiMan

      haha, true. Portions and I don't get along. The bf and I experiment in the kitchen and sadly, our meals haven't been any less expensive than if we had just gone out to eat. But that could also be because a recipe designed for 4-6 basically turns into a big dinner for 2. In the end, we're paying the same amount just go get fatter.

    2. I make everything in cook in large portions. Part of it is a hold over from my days cooking in restaurants, and part of it is that all the recipes I learned from my mom are "family sized."

      What I do know is mentally figure out how many portions are in each dish, and stick to that when I serve it. I'm doing Weight Watchers, and it's much better for me to think "this dish is 6 servings" then to just dig and hope there's leftovers.

      2 Replies
      1. re: manraysky

        Weight Watchers does give one a totally different perspective on portions, doesn't it? I, too, will make my usual big batch of pasta, knowing that it makes 8 servings (not the previously thought 4!). I also plate our food and bring it to us (me and my SO) instead of bringing out the food in serving dishes to the table.

        I also use a kitchen scale or judge by eye (deck of cards = meat portion, domino = cheese portion).

        1. re: dustchick

          Me too - smaller portions since WW, measuring out my rice and pasta servings. you should have heard my husband the first week when he saw his cup of pasta with 1/2 cup of sauce! lol - he was used to eating 2-3 times as much before!

      2. You know what.... If I have made something that both DH and I love the taste of - there just is no accounting for portion size/control. Although we do try to be high minded about such things, if we /he/me want seconds.... it happens. Don't do it too often, or at least try not to, but ...
        well, you know. Stuff happens.

        1. Too funny, we must both suffer from the same OCD's. In addition to my computer generated shopping list, I also use a scale to portion out my food. I have a Salter that tells you tons of info if you want it. I tend to just make sure my piece of meat/chicken is 3-4 ounces, fish is 5 or so ounces, etc. I also measure my pasta/grains/potato. My husband usually is given a larger piece than I take for myself, he actually NEEDS the extra calories (hate him sometimes :-). Veggies I don't measure and fill up on according to how hungry I am.

          I usually don't "plan" for leftovers since dh is not a big fan of leftovers for dinner. The only meals I intentionally make extra of are homemade pastas, lasagne, tomato sauce, crab cakes, anything that freezes well or is labor intensive. If I make something and there is enough leftover for 1, it usually becomes someone's lunch, if it is enough for 2 it is frozen and used a couple weeks later for dinner.

          As far as planning our dinners, I loosely plan out our meals on Sunday night. On Sat I usually have gone to the farmers market and plan some things aorund the fresh produce when available (not too much longer now). Then I tend to shop on Monday for proteins and basics. Since we eat out a lot over the weekend by Mon all we have left are leftovers from the crazy portions the restaurants have given us. Yes, I know that is for another thread!

          I never used to plan menus, but since I somewhat recently had a baby, I don't have as much time to stop at the market daily and peruse menus before cooking dinner as I used to, I find it is working quite well to plan ahead.

          1. To actually answer your question, jfood, here's what I do....
            I plan on paper a week's menues for dinner only. It's based on what I have on hand in the fridge and freezer. Pantry items stay put and are used to either augment or become the main ingredient. Once at the market, I choose whatever looks good/the least expensive/able to vaguely agree with my plans. There is a lot of maneuvering involved but that's what I like to do..... make the produce dictate the meal - but have an end result in mind.

            Since there's only two of us - I suppose there's more leeway than most families have available to them.

            1. I avoid the grocery stores on the weekends...it's usually ridiculously busy. I usually shop early mornings or late evenings when the stores are quieter. I try and plan at least 5-6 dinners... we don't have a "steak night" I just try and put together a list of what we'll need for those 5-6 dishes and get everything but say the salmon filet - that I'll pick up on the day I'm using it. I'll also try and prep some ingredients for two dishes at the same time for example: chicken for dinner becomes chicken noodle soup for lunch.

              As for portion control on my plate... I divide it up in three sections 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs, 1/2 veggies. We also have a digital food scale...something that has helped explain what a "deck of cards" size portion of protein really looks like. I've also found calorie-count.com helpful ...keeps me from "cheating" at the end of the day... I used to rationalize: " I've been "good" I can have ____." ...the calorie counter keeps me from overindulging. I still have dessert and whatnot, I just have less.

              Well...that's my 2 cents :)

              1. oh boy. I shop for food basically every day, and will make whatever strikes my fancy for dinner. it's just me and the man, but somehow I always end up with enough food for a couple people more... when I make a stir-fry, I want a variety of stuff -- so I'll put in green and red bell pepper, snow peas, broccoli, onion, mushrooms... before you know it, the whole wok is full, and that's not counting the meat. I have gotten better with pasta servings though, which I've always guess-timated to be smaller (dry measure) than they turned out.

                Neither man nor I are big fans of leftovers, so we do the 'finishing the plate (including the cheese plate) thing'. Not good.

                1. I scale down recipes more often than not, but if it's labor intensive or something I can freeze, like macaroni and cheese, I'll make the whole recipe, but will freeze half before the final step of baking. I'll try to freeze in individual portions, so it's not just a big mound of something, but ready to go.

                  I think the size of your fist is a good indicator of portion size--not that I follow that very much, but I have noticed that's what it takes to satiate my hunger, and everything after that is pure entertainment. I used to be enamored of really tiny plates and bowls a la a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle story about picky eaters (starve them out) and numerous magazine tips on how a smaller plate will make your food look bigger. But I found that it just gave me license to go back for seconds. Whereas 4 tiny meatballs served at a restaurant in a bowl with an enormous rim will actually leave me satisfied. Maybe because the plating seems so grandiose?


                  1. Depending on the dish, I cook multiple servings at once to save time and effort. Not doing so will increase the chances that I'll eat junk because the time and energy required to cook every day would be overwhelming on top of other responsibilities. Some things don't translate well into leftovers but others are better heated up the next day (lasagna) or nearly as good.

                    I don't think there is any such thing as a "correct" portion size though but there is such a thing as overeating. "Correct" portions are generally based on an individual's activity level, gender and height rather than on the weight of a particular food IMO. However, vegetables are pretty much an "eat as much as you can" situation for me and I try to use smaller portions of starchy foods and about 3 oz. of protein.

                    1. jfood,

                      Funny you bring this up, as I have been thinking about it lately. Now it is just the two of us at home. Until a couple years ago we had more a daughter and grandson living here, and before that we had another daughter here. Both of the girls went to college and would randomly bring home guests for dinner, so I was accustomed to making large meals "just in case." If we had leftovers, we would have a "fend for yourself" night, where everyone chose which meal they wanted to repeat. And if one of their friends came over there was always some home cooked food for them. I had kids over here at 3 pm eating leftover mashed potatoes and gravy! Most of them either didn't have access to home cooking, or couldn't cook themselves, so they enjoyed raiding our fridge.

                      Now, I find that I am overcooking for the two of us, and those leftovers aren't flying out of the fridge like they used to. I am learning to scale back, but there are certain things (spaghetti, chili, bean soup, pot roast and brisket, to name a few) that the girls still crave and ask for, even though they both are good cooks. So when I make those I make the large amount I used to and call them to come get their "leftovers". This helps them out and satisfies my need to cook for the masses! As far as my DH and I, we eat normal portions, and if it's leftover we either freeze it or eat it again.

                      1. Typically we do some grocery shopping on Saturday since we are gone from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. monday - friday, and my local butcher is not open on Sunday. We typically pick up a nice cut of beef(skirt steak, london broil, steaks), or some ribs to bbq for Saturday nights dinner. Saturdays grocery run is typically for that dinnr only. Sunday is the big grocery day, and our Sunday meal is typically a roast(turkey,chicken,pork, beef), or something hearty(chicken & dumplings, etc.).

                        We plan for leftovers to take care of meals during the week.

                        Leftovers of the Saturday meal are turned into something else for dinners during the week. The leftover beef, or pork is turned into tacos, or steak sandwiches. The roasts are just served as the were on Sunday. Typically I am tired of eating leftovers by Thursday, so we order in some pizza, or go out to eat. Fridays we always go out to eat or do carry-out.

                        Additional leftovers are eaten by my wife for lunch @ work during the week. I typically only eat dinner during the week, my "lunch" consists of peanuts, pepsi, and some chips.

                        As far as portion size, at dinner, and on the weekends I eat until I am full since I do not eat breakfast ever, and basically no lunch during the weekdays.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: swsidejim

                          Besides trying to now cook for just 2 and not 4-6- I find that if I use smaller plates it helps control portion sizes. My set of dishes has the huge sized plates, smaller plates and then the dessert plates. I use the smaller dinner plates and they work great at controlling portions. I am also doing weight watchers and I tend to use my hand as my guide... protein is about the size of the palm of my hand (minus the fingers) and of course most of the veggies are "free" foods so I fill my plate with those.

                        2. We plan a "menu" of meals to have during the week, and shop on Sunday for anything we need to create the items on the menu. There are two of us, and I try to pick recipes that will serve four so that we then have two meals at night and then two lunches the next day. That usually keeps us from overeating, because if we overeat we won't have any lunch the next day.

                          Once a week (usually on Wednesday, because I have a 7:30 yoga class which messes up our evening schedule) we have "leftovers night" to clear out anything that hasn't yet been used. If there isn't anything, we do grilled cheese on that night.

                          1. Hello jfood,

                            Am happy to reply back because I always enjoy reading your responses:

                            First I was raised with a Mother that went to weight watchers and also worked for a wellness program at a hospital so I got a lot of nutritional information early on, but here is what I do for the two of us I cook for at home:

                            Before I go to the store I look to see what needs used, what dishes I can make with just a few items from the store, and etc.

                            I then plan out every meal I will cook and buy only the ingredients for those things and for our lunches (BF and I pack). I scale down every recipe to just two servings or now sometimes three (I have late classes now and often can't cook before it, but BF rarely eats leftovers so no use making more for him). BF doesn't like eating leftovers for dinner unless I make it into something new so it is important for me to make just enough. I also don't like eating leftovers in packed lunches because it tends to be more calories than I like to eat for lunch and because I have a health thing my lunch tends to go to help my stomach normally yogurt, fruit and granola bar.

                            I have one of those pasta serving measures which is helpful. Some recipe sites I use will even do the math for me in recipes and this is really nice. Recipezaar will do this. I don't really measure too much with veggies if there are more that is good I can always put them in another dish, and if BF and I eat too many veggies one night that is fine with me!

                            When at store I also get just a few healthy snacks, BF will get other things but I don't eat those.

                            Then if we go out and I don't cook a meal I just won't buy things for another meal. And I try to gauge my fridge so I cook what needs to be cooked first. jfood is lucky he can buy groceries daily it can be very hard to plan exactly what I want to eat all week. But generally the ingredients can be mixed up a little and then the next week can be adjusted.

                            We also have a not huge kitchen so we just can't buy a lot of extras. Some things are hard to scale down and we save those for nights with company most times. With BF so adverse to leftovers even though I love them it just doesn't make a lot of sense for me to make many things with multiple portions.

                            1. I have 3 teenagers so it is virtually impossible to cook too much food. I always plan for leftovers as I would rather have them snacking on good homecooked food than junk food. As far as portion sizes go, I try to plan for 10 portions. With 5 of us in the family, that leaves sufficient leftovers and also accomodates any friends that the kids bring home. When I make something like lasagna, I always make 2 and put 1 in the freezer.

                              As far as shopping, one huge Costco run once a month and a regular grocery run once a week.

                              1. I will cook certain things in large amounts -- soups, stews, casseroles, braised meats. Vegetables, stir-fries, rice, fish, roast chicken -- I cook from scratch. I usually pack DH's lunch by giving him leftover casserole, soup, etc. dish and make the vegetables and rice fresh in the AM. It helps that I've got a rice cooker with a timer. I don't really measure what I eat. I eat what I want on a salad plate. I place my husband's food on a regular dinner plate as we have different nutritional needs.

                                1. I live alone, and unless it's something like scrambled eggs and an English muffin, I never make enough food for just a single meal. If it's a b/s chicken breast, they're usually monster-sized so I cut it in half lengthwise, and cook two portions of whatever I'm making (with a much more appropriately sized piece of protein) and then have the 2nd serving for lunch at work the next day or make it the next night's dinner.

                                  Things like soup, casseroles, stews, pot roast, spaghetti sauce, chili, etc. - always enough for 4-6 servings, and at least half gets frozen (mostly the sauce and chili). That way, I have an "easy meal" if I haven't pulled anything out of the freezer ahead of time. And I'll often do a "planned over" for something like a pot roast, so it becomes a brand new meal.

                                  1. jfood, I think "double-cooking" and portion control are probably two different things. E.g., I cook very large amounts (soups, roasts, etc.) for freezing and to share out to my college kid and my father, and for my Hub's lunches. The large amounts that I cook do not translate into large portions on the plate of those dining in my kitchen or dining room. Each diner pretty much knows what they need (we also have had talks about the palm and fist method of measuring portions, as others have mentioned). The Hub is a very physical type that needs a little extra. Daughter is an athlete and very active and sometimes needs a little extra. I am une femme du certain age who needs a little less. Just because there are copious leftovers does not mean we eat those additional victuals. (We have, however, never made food verboten to our kids; I think perhaps forbidden fruit is the sweetest of all and more enticing?) Mom (me) generally dishes out in accordance to each diner's stated desires. Seconds, if warranted. Other leftovers can be used for the "fend for yourself" nights.

                                    I think the portion debate on another thread may be rooted in the money expended for a dish that is, say, altogether too large and cannot be taken home because there are other stops/entertainments along the way. The overage in my own kitchen, which I have paid for, can be used in myriad ways and is, thus using my food dollar wisely. The overage on my restaurant plate, which has been paid for, cannot always be used in the same manner. Less usage for the buck, maybe? Most of us in this country are immigrant stock, and have some sort of desire not to see food wasted. Waste is the genesis of some irritiations in the too-big plate complaint. As to the too-little-plate complaint, I can't comment, as I am usually happy to see a smaller amount of food offered, but that's just me.

                                    As for shopping, we do a large farmers' market foray on weekend during the season, and plan all our meals around that bounty. Meats come out of the freezer a few days ahead of being needed, and are melded into the meal plans. Our close to daily runs are to our co-op for things we've dunderheadedly forgotten, or for some fresh herbs.

                                    I am making a one-shot meal tonight - gyros with all the fixings - but have a pork roast and vension hamburger thawing for the weekend. We'll root around in the veggies and figure out what is next in line for freshness, and improvise. We'll most likely make an excess of food, but we won't eat it just because it's there. It saves well for an after school snack for Daughter or a lunch.

                                    I will hazard to editorialize, and say I have no patience for those who eat too much simply because it's available and then complain that they ate it. I'm a free will advocate here. I will say, however, that as a parent I try to teach my progeny what is a sensible amount to eat (not always successful, but time marches on...). I findthe greatest governor for portion control is lively conversation at the dinner table, and enough time to eat so that the body's own appetite monitor can kick in.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: cayjohan

                                      I think the biggest danger of larger restaurant portions is that they distort the reality of what a portion size should look like. Between those and the frugal "clean your plate" plus "cooking expresses love"-based philosophy of my upbringing, I required a bit of re-education in my adulthood as to what correct portion sizes are.

                                    2. Good question.

                                      I've been staying with my family as I finish writing my dissertation, and we're crazy about the portion control, for health reasons and to have leftovers for lunch or next day's dinner (and, on my part, trying to save money).

                                      We do the deck of cards thing for approximating proper protein portions, try to avoid or severely limit simple starches, and try to fill the rest of the plate with vegetables. If it's a simple steak night, we split a Costco strip three ways, a baking potato three ways, and some basic veggie and a salad. If it's a more complex dish, we portion according to the recipe or less and pack up the rest right away.

                                      Tonight was quinoa-beef picadillo from Whole Grains Every Day Every Way, serves 4-6, we ate less than half with some leftover veggies, and the rest is in the fridge as we speak, and will make at least a lunch and another dinner. That way, we can do the All About Braising short ribs or the Nigella Lawson lamb shanks with lentils or homemade dinner rolls every once in a while.

                                      1. The proper portion is what satiates me. No more, no less.

                                        1. the plate size REALLY is important. use salad plates for your main course, the soup bowls for pasta, the large dinner plates as serving platters/prep plates as needed.
                                          also, lots of times it's not necessary to have more than one or two courses, and don't make enough of an entire meal for leftovers (i.e., extra vegetables, or sauce,yes, extra pasta, no.)
                                          if you use the small plates for all your meals, you will invariably eat less. then you will get used to eating less, and it won't be a problem.
                                          also, in terms of portion control: do not wear elastic waist band pants. if you want your stomach to stay the same size, wear pants that fit you. obviously you don't want to be uncomfortable, so you can't wear anything too small but you can prevent yoursel from gaining.
                                          oh, and if you drink water and eat fruit throughout the day, you'll be less likely to overeat.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: fara

                                            We just were careful when we bought new plates not to get big ones or white ones which supposedly look less full than other colors or patterned ones. I don't know if this is really true, but I have read the white plate thing in a couple different places now.

                                            I actually really like my old china and it is smaller in size which is nice.

                                          2. I infrequently cook just enough for one meal. At least I like to have left overs for one person for lunch, or enough for the kids to eat. Cooking at least double saves me a lot of time, and I often use the freezer so I don't have to just eat the same thing for a week.

                                            In my ideal world, I would sort of have my meals constantly rolling over -- sometimes the leftovers are enough to spare cooking the next night but sometimes I just can add in another dish (or a more complicated side item) that goes well, in other words a more complex meal but only half the work in one day. I like to have emergency meals on reserve to make a difficult day easier.

                                            As to portion size, I have dishware that measure about 9" in diameter that I personally imported but I don't necessarily think it reduces portion size given that you can always go back for seconds. While there is some degree of fooling the stomach that occurs, I think elastic pants, dishware size and so forth are heavily influenced by your outlook and relationship with food. And also what you tend to eat. Clearly if you eat lots of steamed veges you can indulge like the dickens and only gain 50 calories, whereas if you eat steaks and alfredo sauce, you have a smaller margin of indulgence.