How much food in enough? A laymen’s guide to the perfect dinner portion
Picture the scene: I’ve got friends round for dinner. It’s a luxurious fish pie and salad with a lovely Sauvignon Blanc and it’s time to serve up. We’ve had nibbles and there’s Eton Mess for pudding. I'm aiming for my guests to go home satisfied (and lavishly praising their host), not bloated (and cursing the day they met me).
Getting this whole portion size right is trickier than it sounds: give my guests too little and they’ll think I’m on some whacky diet or I’ve fallen on hard times. Give them too much and they’ll feel compelled to eat it all and go home worrying about fitting through the front door. And if romance was on the cards, it certainly won’t be after a monster meal.
So how much food should I serve up? Is there a magic formula? Nutritionists should have the answers and I like some of what they (like that chocolate can be good for me...), but looking across all I've read, it’s beyond confusing. So here for your (and my) benefit, is a layman’s guide to portion sizes that’ll give the majority of guests a balanced meal with a happy ending ….ooerh.
1. Try the plate model. It’s a simple way to balance your dish (and confusingly doesn’t involve eating the plate)
- A quarter of the plated dish should be meat/fish/ other protein.
- A quarter should be starchy foods (potatoes/rice/pasta).
- The remaining half the plate should be vegetables.
- Sauces, dressings and all the other naughties are obviously extra and we’ll ignore these because, well, it is a dinner party after all.
2. Use your hand (again, confusingly not for the actual eating. That's what knives and forks are for.)
Your hand is a really quick and handy (pardon the pun) tool for estimating one portion size of loads of solid foods. For example one portion is roughly a moderate handful of meat of fish, pasta or rice, vegetables or pulses. If you're a numbers person, you might prefer the detail below.
3. Aim for 1 portion of protein per meal
- 100-125g of fish
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons of pulses/lentils / beans
4. Aim for 1 portion of starchy foods per meal
- 50-60g uncooked rice or pasta
- A slice of bread
- A medium potato
5. Aim for 2 or 3 portions of veg and fruit per meal
- 3 tablespoons of cooked vegetables
- 80g raw fruit e.g. apples, bananas, berries
Everyone's a bit different so it’s worth noting that people with special diets may need more or less of certain foods. For example diabetics shouldn’t have 2 portions of fruit together to avoid glucose highs and Paleo followers lean more towards protein and veg than starchy foods.
Try these out and let us know how you get on.