FYI Friday – How to manage serving sizes

Hey there, Pretty Little Grub readers! My name is Sam and I write a blog over at Grapefruit & Granola.


I was so excited when Jen asked if I would like to do a guest post for her blog. As a fellow Registered Dietitian and make-up lover, I love reading Pretty Little Grub and feel like Jen and I could be friends in real life!

I figured I’d stick with the theme of both of our blogs and go with a nutrition post today.

I feel very strongly that the most important part of a healthy diet is having a healthy relationship with food. Any type of eating habits that make someone feel deprived are probably not sustainable in the long run. This means that there is room for all types of food in your diet- in moderation. Understanding portion sizes and what can affect our perception of serving sizes can help us achieve this moderation.

Have you ever heard of the Delboeuf Illusion? It’s basically an optical illusion where our brains are tricked into thinking something is bigger when it is surrounded by something small. Check out this visual:



Does the circle on the right appear larger? It does to me. The two black circles are actually the same size. It’s interesting how the circle on the left seems smaller just because it is surrounded by a larger circle.

There have been several studies done that, similar to the Delboeuf Illusion, show us how plate/bowl sizes affect our perception of portion sizes. Here are two studies that I found to be especially interesting:

– This study, done by Cornell University studied campers serving themselves cereal in large and small bowls. They found that campers served themselves larger portion sizes when given larger bowls. Even more interesting… the campers with larger bowls underestimated how much they were serving themselves when compared to the estimates from the campers with smaller bowls.

– In this study, participants were shown a serving of soup and asked to pour the same amount into their own bowl. Participants with smaller bowls not only underserved themselves but they also overestimated their serving sizes.

To test this illusion myself, I took 1 cup of kidney beans and poured them into different sized bowls from my kitchen.

Beans 1

Beans 2

Beans 3

Beans 4 Beans 5

It’s interesting how these exact same beans look so different when they are in different sized bowls. If I were serving myself an actual meal here, I would most definitely serve myself a larger serving in the bigger bowl!

Beans Collage

Knowing this, here are some tips to help keep your servings in check:

-Don’t be afraid to stock your cabinet with lots of different sizes of dishes. Matching dish sets are nice, but I’ve found that having random sizes of bowls gives me lots of options when I’m making meals and want to serve myself the appropriate amount.

-Choose smaller plates/bowls for desserts and those “once in a while” type foods. I’m usually satisfied after I eat ice cream served in a smaller bowl even though I could easily eat double that serving in a larger bowl.

-Reserve larger bowls and plates for foods that are nutrient-dense. I love large bowls for salads or when I’m putting together a dinner with several different vegetable servings.

Thanks so much for letting me guest post, Jen! Hope you guys have a great day!!

Sam Collins, MS, RD, LDN is a 29 year-old registered dietitian living in North Carolina. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech and has worked in the nutrition field for the past 7 years. In her free time, she enjoys music, reading, cycling, and cheering for her alma mater, the Virginia Tech Hokies. Sam also has a nutrition and lifestyle blog, Grapefruit & Granola. 

You can also find her on :

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