Hands holding blueberries

Portion control

A critical part of healthy eating.

What is a portion size?

The amount of food you eat at any given time is referred to as a portion size. Depending on your food choices (or recommendations from your Registered Dietitian), your portion size may differ from a serving size (the amount used to calculate the nutrition facts of a packaged product).

A handy guide to portion sizes

To help you estimate appropriate portions, your hands are the perfect tools – make use of these handy measures for healthy meal and snack planning:

Fisted hand facing palm forward. Small oval drawn over palm.
Cupped hand facing up. Half circle drawn over cupped portion of hand.

Both hands

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

Brightly coloured vegetables (e.g., spinach, broccoli, peppers, green/yellow beans, zucchini, etc.)


One fist

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

  • Whole fruit (1 cup)
  • Cold cereal (30 g)
  • Yogurt (¾ cup)
  • Milk and soy beverage (1 cup)
  • Legumes (e.g., peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas) (¾ cup)

Half a fist (½ cup)

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

  • Fresh, frozen or canned vegetables
  • Fresh, frozen or canned fruit
  • Grains (e.g., pasta, rice, quinoa, barley)

Cupped hand (¼ cup)

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and seeds
Open palm facing forward. Large circle drawn over flat hand.
A fisted hand with the thumb sticking up. Square oval drawn over thumb
A fisted hand with the thumb sticking up. Square oval drawn over thumb tip.

Palm (2 ½ ounces)

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

  • Fish
  • Meat and poultry

Flat hand

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • ½ bagel, pita or tortilla

Thumb (1 tablespoon)

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

  • Cheese (2 thumbs)
  • Peanut butter (2 thumbs)
  • Oil (1 thumb)
  • Margarine & butter (1 thumb)
  • Mayonnaise & sauces (1 thumb)

Thumb tip (1 teaspoon)

Good for measuring 1 portion of:

  • Oil (1 thumb tip)
  • Margarine & butter (1 thumb tip)
  • Mayonnaise & sauces (1 thumb tip)

Friendly tip:

To calibrate your handy measures, compare each with the amount you get from a measuring cup or spoon.

The plate method

You can also use a plate to help estimate healthy portion sizes.*

Aim for:

1/2 plate = vegetables (i.e., garden salad, Greek salad, steamed or grilled vegetables, etc.)

1/4 plate = meat & other protein (i.e., lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, vegetable protein, chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc.)

1/4 plate = grains & starches (i.e., brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, barley, sweet potatoes, etc.)

Round off your meal with a piece of fruit

A plate divided into sections. Half of the plate is for vegetables, one quarter of the plate is for meat and other protein, and one quarter of the plate is for grains and starches.

* Adapted from Diabetes Canada, 2018.

Chickpeas, beans and lentils also contain carbohydrates.

A bowl of salad

Friendly tip:

If your food is typically served in a bowl, these same portion principles apply

  • ½ bowl = vegetables
  • ¼ bowl = meat & other protein
  • ¼ bowl = grains & starches
  • Round off your meal with a piece of fruit

Practice “Portion Principles” wherever you go

Dining out with type 2 diabetes

While type 2 diabetes shouldn’t be the end of your restaurant-rolling days, it’s important to use your smart eating principles everywhere you eat.

Make healthy choices.



Food with fibre
Whole grains (e.g., quinoa, brown rice, oats),
Vegetables, fruit and legumes (e.g., beans, chickpeas and lentils)

Protein (e.g., lean meat, poultry, fish, tofu, eggs, legumes)

Items that are baked, steamed, grilled, roasted or poached

Low calorie or sugar-free beverages (e.g., water, sparkling water, or unsweetened coffee or tea)



High-fat foods (including most deep fried, battered or breaded dishes)

Sweet, cheesy, buttery or creamy sauces (e.g., hollandaise, alfredo, tartar, etc.)

High-salt and/or high-fat meats (e.g., ribs, wings, sausages, wieners, skin-on poultry, processed cold cuts)

Unnecessary carbs – specifically “the bread basket” (politely decline before it’s placed in front of you)

Sweets high in sugar and fat (e.g., cookies, cakes or pies)

Drinks high in sugar or calories – and be wary of refills (e.g., pop, juice, sweet coffee-based beverages or milkshakes)

Alcoholic beverages (1–2 per day maximum)
Friendly tip:

Many restaurant menus are posted online. Browse the selection ahead of time so you can “pre-pick” the best meal option, without the pressures of people or time.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

It’s okay to request more information about ingredients and cooking methods. Once you understand how your meal is being prepared, you can ask for specific changes to meet your dietary needs (e.g., grilled vs. fried, sauce on the side, hold the bacon and so on).

Many restaurants will accommodate requests like:

  • Half-portions of large orders
  • Salad or steamed vegetables vs. French fries
  • A double order of vegetables instead of a starch
  • Brown rice or quinoa vs. white rice
  • No added salt during cooking
  • Olive oil vs. butter
  • Whole wheat pasta or pizza dough
  • Tomato sauce vs. cream sauce
  • Less cheese or no cheese
  • Leftovers packed to-go (vs. eating a full meal)
  • Baked or grilled vs. fried
  • Sauce and/or dressing on the side
Contrôle des portions bulb

Plan in advance.

Put thought into foods you should go for, like roasted veggies, grilled proteins, etc., and foods you should avoid, like fried foods, creamy sauces, etc.

Contrôle des portions image

Tour the table.

Before you fill up your plate, have a “first look” at the selection and take note of the dishes you want to try.

Contrôle des portions sweet

Start with salad.

Enjoy a large serving of fresh greens, topped with vinaigrette, and avoid creamy dressing.

Contrôle des portions straight hand

Be selective.

Choose one indulgent dish like mac & cheese, then round out your plate with healthier, lighter fare.

Contrôle des portions clock

Don’t rush.

Take your time, eat slowly, savour your food and enjoy the company.

Contrôle des portions question

Re-think round 2.

Consider whether a refill is needed and, if so, what healthy options are available for you to choose from.

Contrôle des portions sweet

Craving a sweet treat?

Fruit is a great option. If you would like something a little more indulgent, choose one item and consider the right portion size.

Find out how
Glycemic index chart beside produce.

Glycemic index chart

Take advantage of this widely used scale to guide food decisions and help balance blood sugar.
Be cart smart
Shopper and grocery cart.

Shopping smarter

Could your “grocery haul” use an “overhaul”? Get some quick tips on how to shop smarter for healthier eats.

Information presented within Cart2Table is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional.

Cart2Table has been reviewed and approved by Registered Dietitian Caroline Leblanc and Certified Diabetes Educator Naomi Orzech.