Portion sizes

What's a healthy portion? How do we know if we're eating too much?

As a nation, we're getting fatter and obesity is on the rise, particularly amongst children, so Waitrose has produced this guide to portion sizes. Portion control is key to weight management as you can eat all the right foods but if you're eating too much, this will eventually lead to weight gain.

How to eat a balanced diet

Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs)

Men 2,500 calories/day
Women 2,000 calories/day
Children (aged 5 to 10) 1,800 calories/day

So now you know your maximum, what should you be eating?


'The eatwell plate encourages you to choose different foods from the main food groups everyday to help ensure you obtain the wide range of nutrients your body needs to remain healthy and function properly.' (Food Standards Agency). Broadly speaking your daily diet should consist of:

  • 33 per cent fruit and vegetables
  • 33 per cent starchy foods (potatoes, pasta, bread, cereals, rice).
    Pick the wholegrain versions whenever possible as they will provide much of the daily fibre intake you require, as well as providing more nutrients than the processed versions.
  • 15 per cent milk and dairy products (important sources of calcium).
  • 12 per cent meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy protein sources.

That leaves 8 per cent for treats, ie food and drinks that are high in fat and/or sugar.

Servings and portions

There's portion size and there's serving size and although they're similar, they're not entirely the same. A serving size on pack is guidance as to how many people a particular food might serve, eg 'this steak and ale pie serves three'. A single serving size in some cases equates to one portion, for example a yogurt pot. A portion is how much you should eat, eg 80g of fruit or vegetables is one portion and contributes to one of your five a day. Remember, portion sizes are smaller for children and for less active adults.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables should be at least one third (or 33 per cent) of your diet. The recommended amount is five a day, but that's the minimum you should be eating. And with five a day, it's important to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, and as many different colours as possible, to ensure you are getting lots of different nutrients. For adults, one portion is equivalent to 80g fresh fruit or vegetables; for children a portion is the amount they can hold in the palm of their hand.

80g portion is:

  • Three tablespoons of cooked veg or a small bowl of salad
  • One piece of fruit about the size of a tennis ball
  • Two pieces of fruit, each about the size of an egg
  • Handful of grapes

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Starchy foods

  • Starchy foods should form the basis of each meal. Eg:
  • 75g dried pasta (about a mug full)
  • 125g fresh pasta (most Waitrose packs serve two or four)
  • 75g dried rice (about one third of a mug)
  • One large potato
  • One third of a soup bowl of cereal

Milk and dairy products

The Dairy Council recommends three portions a day to provide you with the calcium your body requires (children need smaller portions). Choose low fat or reduced fat versions, and drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.

One adult portion is:

  • 30g cheese (the size of a small matchbox)
  • 200ml milk (a small glass)
  • Small pot of yogurt (150g)

Meat, fish, eggs, beans and non-dairy protein

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends we eat two portions of fish each week, one of which is oily. A portion is 140g (eg, a salmon steak the size of a computer mouse). A meat portion is equal to 80g of raw meat (about the size of a pack of cards). The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends no more than 500g red meat in a week.


  • Two to three heaped tablespoons is one portion of your five a day.


  • Two tablespoons (about 30g or a small handful) is an ideal snack size, just divide the pack into portions to stop you munching on them all day.

Other useful portion sizes

  • Pies and quiches: a slice no wider than your hand
  • Chilled desserts: one serving spoon
  • Loaf cakes: make the slices the width of a postage stamp
  • Round cakes: a slice no wider than the length of your thumb
  • Crisps: one small bag
  • Pizza: no more than one third of a plate, (or one to two slices)

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Other tips for portion control:

Take your time eating to allow your brain to register when you're full. Once full, stop eating! We often find it hard to leave food on the plate but it's actually a good habit to adopt. Lots of food can be refrigerated and re-heated the next day. Only re-heat leftovers once, and always ensure food is piping hot throughout. Take note of the amount you cook and try not to cook too much. If you reduce your portion sizes too much and still feel peckish, increase the amount of salad or vegetables on your plate or have a piece of fruit instead of dessert.

Don't use big plates as you may end up putting more on them. Give children their own smaller plates and always serve them small portions. When eating out, don't feel pressured into finishing everything, as you can always ask for a doggy bag.

How can Waitrose help?

Labelling: Waitrose labels advise on serving sizes and provide nutrition information per serving. Although these are only a guide, try sticking to them (or having less) as you can always fill up with more vegetables.

Waitrose counters: we sell a lot of food loose, so you can choose exactly how much you buy. Eg, you can purchase individual sausages instead of a pack of eight, or a single slice of quiche.

For more information

Nutrition Advice Service
Waitrose Limited
RG12 8YA
Tel: 0800 188884
Visit: www.waitrose.com/nutrition
Email: customersupport@waitrose.co.uk

Food Standards Agency
www.eatwell.gov.uk (this link opens in a new window)

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