How to Use Portion Size for a Balanced Diet

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As we age, our metabolism slows down, and often our activity level follows suit. Some older people can quickly gain weight if they don’t change their eating habits. Others may lose weight too quickly by not eating enough if they suffer from loss of appetite.

Using portion control helps ensure that we eat enough of the foods that are good for us while limiting those that are not. Here are some ways seniors can measure and manage portion sizes to optimize their nutritional needs.

eat more of this

The foods we want to fill our plate with include:

  • Vegetables: 2-3 cups daily, especially dark leafy vegetables.
  • Fruit: 1 ½ -2 cups.
  • Protein: 5-6 ounces, mostly lean protein such as chicken and fish.
  • Whole grains: 5 to 8 ounces, mostly whole grains.
  • Dairy products: 3 cups, low-fat milk and yogurt are healthier sources of needed calcium.

Eat less of this

  • Refined sugars found in sugary cereals, baked goods, candies and other candies.
  • Added salt found in many canned soups, snacks, frozen meals and other packaged foods.
  • Saturated fats found in fatty meats such as beef and pork and deli meats, whole dairy products such as cheese, butter, sour cream, and prepared snacks such as potato chips.

Sources: Suggested servings from each food group and My Plate for Seniors

Learn the right portions

The first step is to understand how to identify the right portions for a healthy, balanced diet. Using everyday objects on eyeball portions is a useful way to measure food in almost any situation.

This serving size chart provides visual references and serving size recommendations. For example, 3 ounces of lean meat is the size of a deck of cards and a cup of chopped vegetables or fruit is the size of a baseball.

Logan Eckels, health coach at The Health Plan, says getting the right portion of snacks is a great way to stay responsible and eat more mindfully.

“If you like to snack while watching TV, try putting a small portion of what you eat in a bowl or plate. If you bring the whole bag or container of the snack to watch TV, you are more likely to overeat.

Tips for limiting portion sizes

  • Use smaller plates. In the United States, plates have gotten bigger and bigger, and so have our portion sizes. Using a smaller one helps you avoid the overeating that is common when you’re tempted to fill a large plate.
  • Fill half your plate with green vegetables. Eating a salad with mixed greens for lunch or dinner each day can go a long way to ensuring that you are eating enough greens. A lightly seasoned vegetable stir-fry, soup or smoothie with greens are other ways to fill up on veggies.
  • Eat at the table rather than in front of the TV. Eating mindlessly in front of a favorite show or movie often leads to overeating. Instead, try to eat at the table and pay attention to what you eat and how much you eat.
  • Be mindful when eating out. Most restaurants serve food in oversized portions. When eating out, look for restaurants that offer senior portions, request kids’ meals, or take half home as leftovers. Other options include sharing a meal with a friend or ordering an appetizer for lunch.
  • Measure portions. A good way to limit snacking is to measure a small portion into a bowl instead of eating from the bag.
  • Use a bento box. A bento box or other container with divided sections can be a useful way to divide food. Here are 7 bento box recipe ideas.
  • Eat home. One of the best ways to limit refined sugars, excess salt, and saturated fats is to prepare snacks and baked goods using healthier recipe options.

Knowing the recommended daily portions, understanding how to measure them, and following some tips for limiting the amount of food you eat can lead to healthier eating. Eating well as you age can help you maintain a healthy weight, fight common illnesses, promote better sleep, and overall feel better.

Active aging is presented by The Health Plan. Established as a community-based health organization, The Health Plan provides a customer-focused, technology-driven, technology-driven platform in developing and implementing products and services that manage and improve health and the well-being of our members. We achieve these results thanks to a team of healthcare professionals and partners in our community.

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