It’s not your imagination if you think meal portions have gotten bigger over the years. Restaurants have found it cheaper to compete by adding more and more quantity instead of quality. Cinnamon rolls are big enough to contain half the calories an adult should have in an entire day, the half pound hamburgers that used to be unusually big are now the norm, the tub of popcorn at the theater is closer to the size of a barrel, and many restaurants insist on making the piece of cake you order for dessert big enough to get oohs and ahhs from the surrounding tables. Then there’s the mega-giant-super-big gulp, or whatever they’re up to by now.
All this supersizing of our food is one of many factors that has led to an epidemic of obesity. It follows, then, that one of the ways to counter this trend toward obesity is to reduce our portion sizes when we go out to eat. Here are some suggestions on how to do that:
1. Order the smaller size when the menu has options.
In fast food restaurants especially there often are multiple sizes of beverages, orders of fries, etc. But you’ll see it at other restaurants too. A steak house might have an 8, a 12, and a 16 ounce cut of prime rib. A pizzeria of course will have different diameter pizzas. You can get a cup or a bowl of soup. You can get a single scoop or multiple scoops of ice cream. And so on. Lots of choices.
Don’t be misled in such cases into thinking that whatever is the “middle” size is somehow the normal or regular size. For a lot of foods and beverages in a lot of restaurants, the smallest size would have seemed like a quite big size to previous generations of diners. It’s the other sizes that are beyond the norm, often way beyond the norm.
The smaller sizes will usually still be more than enough to satisfy an ordinary hunger or thirst.
2. Order off the kids menu or seniors menu.
Often the items on the kids menu and/or the seniors menu differ from the standard menu only in size (and price). Different restaurants have different policies, but it’s not uncommon that they’ll be fine with a non-kid ordering from the kids menu, or a non-senior ordering from the seniors menu.
3. Share an item with another member of your party.
Sharing has become the norm in a lot of circles when it comes to dessert, as people feel self-conscious about seeming too indulgent or gluttonous if they have an entire dessert by themselves. (“Well, maybe I’ll get dessert. But only if somebody can help me with it.”) It would be nice to see this become more common with other foods.
If you can split a piece of cheesecake, then you can also split a pasta dish, a sandwich, a salad, or most other items. If restaurants insist on serving portion sizes that are bigger than one person really needs, then treat them as suited to two people.
4. Eat some now, and some later.
Just as you can think of an overlarge portion as being for two people, you can also think of it as being for two meals.
When your food arrives, divide it in half, and treat one half as this meal to enjoy in the restaurant. The other half ask them to box up for you to take home, and that’s another meal, perhaps your lunch tomorrow.
5. Learn how to be satisfied with less.
Some of this is psychological; we just have to get away from the mindset that it’s somehow good to eat until we’re so stuffed that it’s genuinely uncomfortable to swallow another bite. That isn’t a sign you should stop eating; that’s a sign you should have stopped eating long ago.
If you ask yourself throughout your meal “Do I really want to eat more of this?” rather than “Am I capable of eating more of this?” you still might overeat, but at least that’s a step in the right direction.
But there are also things you can do to make you feel more satiated by smaller portions. One is to eat more slowly. Another is to drink plenty of fluids when you eat. (Not something like a soft drink that adds a lot more calories, but water, which adds none.)
Incorporate these ideas into your dining habits and you’ll avoid falling prey to the ever increasing portion sizes restaurants push on us.
Associated Press, “Restaurants offer too much of a bad thing.” MSNBC.
Louise Kramer, “Nestle: restaurants can, and should, offer smaller portions.” BNET.
“Using Smart Portion Sizing to Cut Calories.” Weight Loss For All.