How to Control Portion Sizes in a Restaurant

Part of maintaining a healthy weight includes eating well and knowing how much to eat. When you’re at home in control of the cooking this portion control is much easier. This portion control goes out the window once you go out to eat.

On top of that, I don’t think it’s any secret that the size of portions (particularly in the US) has gotten much bigger in restaurants.

Learning how to control portion sizes in a restaurant isn't as difficult as you may think.

For example, a portion of meat suitable for a healthy weight is typically 4-6 ounces. If you owned a restaurant and tried to serve hamburgers or a steak that was only 4-6 ounces you would have some very unsatisfied men (and women) at your tables.

And this doesn’t just pertain to meat. Restaurants are serving larger portions of starches, soda, or anything that doesn’t cost them much, but will fill a plate. This means that even if you manage to order healthy food in a restaurant the portion size can still be a challenge.
Portion control in restaurants is difficult, but it’s not impossible. The following tips and tricks will help you maintain perfect portions, even while dining out.

Typically when you go out for meals, you’re with friends, family, co-workers, or others. Dining out with others can encourage you to eat more without paying attention to how much you are eating.

If this is a problem for you, here are some tips for controlling your portion sizes when you are eating out.

8 Tips on Portion Control in Restaurants

There are some simple things you can do while dining out that will help you with portion control. Here are 8 tips to do just that.

Avoid Large Portions

Before you even order off the dinner menu, see if you can order either off a lunch menu or even a kids menu. The kids and lunch menus will not only be cheaper but they will most likely have smaller portions. And don’t be afraid of ordering off the kid’s menu. If it’s healthy, then go for it. Your flatter tummy and purse will thank you.

Divide Your Portions

If you can’t get a lunch menu or the kid’s menu is nothing but hotdogs and unhealthy fried foods, don’t be afraid to have your dinner split up. If you’re looking around and seeing large portions on the other tables, you can be sure yours will be pretty big too.

Portion control at restaurants is important for maintaining healthy body weight.

When you order tell them to put half in a to-go box. Just having more food sitting in front of you waiting to be consumed can test your determination. Remove the temptation from the start by having it in a to-go box, out of sight.

This will reduce the portion on your plate and leave you leftovers for the next day.

Eat Slowly to Help With Portion Control

If you’ve ever watched an eating competition they absolutely hammer food down as quickly as possible. They do this because it takes time for your stomach to send signals to the brain that it’s full. Most likely by the time your brain has received those signals, you’ve already overeaten.

Since there is no restaurant portion size chart, you may have to just slow down and enjoy the company.

You’ve probably experienced this yourself during Thanksgiving or a large dinner. Even an hour after you’ve stopped eating, you still as full or even fuller than when you left the table. It’s best to put on some relaxing music, slow down your food consumption to the point where you’re placing your eating utensils down every time you take a bit.

This minor step of placing your utensil and having to pick it back up will naturally slow down the speed you’re consuming your meals. Don’t be afraid to spark up a conversation as this will slow down your pace of eating and give your brain time to grasp that your stomach is full.

Drink Water Often to Keep Portions Low

By drinking some lemon water or even tea before you get your food, the fluid will literally fill up your stomach, which will create a full effect. This way when you sit down to eat, your cravings won’t be as bad, and you’ll eat less.

The feeling of being hungry and thirsty are very similar. By drinking water throughout the day, before a meal, and during your dining out, you might realize you were just thirsty and not as hungry as you initially thought. By drinking water 30 minutes before a meal, you’re less likely to over-indulge.

Use Small Dinnerware for Portion Control

Did you know that the average-sized dinner plate we use is 11-12 inches? Yet, a few decades ago the average-sized plate was closer to 8 inches. And in Europe, the average plate is 9 inches. If you go to a buffet and have a large empty plate in front of you, you’re likely to fill it all up.

And once you get back to the table, if it’s right there in front of you, you’re likely to eat a lot of it. By using a smaller bowl or plate, you’re less likely to consume as much. Visually, by using a smaller plate, it appears you have a full plate, and this will help you eat less.

Stick to Normal Eating Time

If you’ve ever abstained from eating for too long, have you ever uttered the words “I could eat anything right now, I’m so hungry?” When you wait too long between meals, your willingness to eat a properly portioned meal dwindles.

For some reason, it’s become the social norm to have dinner later in the evening, when you’re going out to a restaurant. If you’re having to wait longer for your next meal, your self-discipline could waiver and you might end up ordering a larger, unhealthier meal. When possible, stick to the same eating schedule to avoid this pitfall.

Use Your Hand for Portion Control

When you’re at home using measuring devices, scales, or whatever you use to choose a portion size, is absent so you have to measure on the fly. You don’t need a scale and you don’t need anything too complicated to determine how much you should be eating.

For simplicity, the palm of your hand is roughly equivalent to 1 portion. Additionally, if you close your fist this is roughly equivalent to 1 cup. Obviously, not all of us have the same size hands, so this is just a rough estimate, but if you’re ordering a burrito that is as big as your forearm, you’ll know it’s a bit much.

Along these lines, depending on your goals, what you put on your plate is another tip, which leads us into the next tip.

Keep Your Goals in Mind

How to control portions while dining out is easier with these tips.

Not everybody has the same fitness or health goals. Some people are looking to lose body fat, some are looking to run a marathon 6 months from now, and others are looking to build up some serious muscle.

These different outcomes require different inputs. If you don’t know your macro’s then this is something you need to learn so you know how to properly fuel your body. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, the number of carbs your putting into your body will be significantly higher than someone looking to get on stage or get their beach-body.

As a general guideline, try to order something where a quarter of your plate will be protein (turkey, chicken, pork, red meat), a quarter of slow-digesting carbs (brown rice, sweet potatoes) and half should go-to veggies. In an ideal world, and if you’re at a buffet, fill up your plate in this order…veggies, protein, carbs.

Wrapping up Portion Control When Dining Out

Portion control is about limiting the amount of food we are taking in. This is only one part of total health and nutrition. The kinds of foods we’re eating, the frequency, genetics, and metabolism also play a part in our bodies. Be sure to consider how many calories you’re consuming and if you need to increase or decrease your food intake, based on your exercise routine. A marathon runner’s calorie needs will differ from a bodyweight exercise (Bodyweight Burn Review) routine, so be cognizant of your total calorie intake and burning.

As I write this during the global Covid pandemic, dining out is kind of a rare thing. Granted, ordering food for take-out or delivery is still available, and these guidelines are still applicable. Hopefully, we’ll get back to normal, and enjoying a (perfectly portioned) meal with friends and families will be what it once was.

FAQ on Portion Control at Restaurants

Why are portions so large at restaurants?

Restaurants can order in bulk, which means the cost of food is cheap compared to everyday people. If they can be known as the restaurant with “big portions” they can attract more business.

Why are portions so small at fancy restaurants?

High-end restaurants tend to use higher quality ingredients and they may be locally sourced. This adds to the cost of producing meals, therefore they put out smaller portions to help save on cost.

How do I do portion control?

If you’re at home portion control is easier. If you’re dining out, you’ll need to follow the simple tips and tricks outlined above.

Will portion control help me lose weight?

Portion control is about being mindful of how much food you’re consuming along with how much nutrition, carbs, protein, and fats you’re consuming. It’s not always about reducing how much you eat, but being aware of how much you’re eating. When your awareness increases, you’ll typically consume less, which can lead to weight loss.

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