What Is a Serving?

hummus and vegetables

It’s important to fuel your body properly. You may be eating plenty of food. But you may not be eating the nutrient-dense foods your body needs for good health. Nutrient-dense foods have vitamins, minerals, fiber, complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats. They also are relatively low in calories.

A healthy diet emphasizes certain foods and recommends a number of servings per day. But you may have a question: Just what counts as a serving?

It’s a great question. It can be easy to consider too much as a single serving, especially with tasty foods we like.

A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or one cup (eight ounces) of milk.

Here’s the breakdown of recommended servings per day for several kinds of foods for a 2,000-calorie diet with examples of servings sizes of foods within each group:

Grains: 6 ounces (oz) per day.
Serving sizes = 
½ cup cooked rice, pasta or cooked cereal; 1 oz. dry pasta or rice; 1 slice bread; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes.

Vegetables: 2½ cups per day.
Serving sizes
1 cup equivalent of vegetables is 1 cup raw vegetable or vegetable juice, 2 cups leafy salad greens.

Fruits: 2 cups per day.
Serving sizes =
1 cup equivalent is 1 cup fruit or ½ cup of 100% fruit juice, such as orange juice, or 1/3 cup of a fruit juice blend.

Protein foods (meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and nuts): 5½ oz. per day.
Serving sizes = 3 oz. cooked lean meat, poultry or fish; 2 egg whites or 1 egg; ¼ cup cooked beans; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; ½ oz. unsalted nuts/seeds. Note that ¼ cup cooked beans = 1 oz. protein equivalent but ½ cup cooked beans = 1 vegetable.

Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods (milk, yogurt and cheese): 3 cups per day.
Serving sizes: 1 cup equivalent is 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1½ oz. natural (hard) cheese such as cheddar cheese.

Helpful rules of thumb

Here are a few helpful serving size guidelines to remember:

  • One cup of raw leafy vegetables or a baked potato should be about the size of a baseball or average-sized fist.
  • Three ounces of cooked lean meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.
  • A teaspoon of soft margarine is about the size of a postage stamp.
  • One serving of fat-free or low-fat cheese is about the size of a pair of dice.

Consider setting a goal to eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods 85% of the time. You can use the remaining 15% for an occasional treat, or for times when you’re crunched for time and have to prioritize convenience over nutrition.

And here’s food for thought: Once you start eating right, it will be easier to get your loved one started on some heart-healthy, nutritious habits, too.