Serving Sizes

Are you eating three times the recommended serving sizes? What you call a serving and what the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) calls a serving might look very different if placed side by side on separate plates.

Serving Sizes

Yet any difference that exists is important because food manufacturers often base their nutritional information on USDA standards.

Those Fries Count!

Let’s say you’re in the mood for some French fries. You know they’re not the most healthful thing in the world, but what the heck, you've been good lately and you've promised yourself that you won’t eat more than one 120-calorie serving (a number you've picked up from the side of the freezer bag). 

If you’re like us, you've never in your life actually counted out the number of frozen fries you wanted to eat before placing them on a cookie sheet and popping them into the oven. You’ve either eyeballed it and used part of the package or simply prepared the whole works.

Now, how many fries will wind up on your plate and in your tummy? Our guess is that it will be something more than the ten (yes, 10!) fries that the USDA defines as a single serving. As a result, any casual assumptions you may have made about the number of calories (or the amount of fat and sodium) in your snack were probably way off base.

Listed below are some sample single-serving sizes as defined by the USDA. We've tried to choose relatively common foods, to give you an idea of the gap —if any—that exists between the portions you typically eat and the portions that constitute a serving for labeling purposes. 

USDA Serving Sizes


Cooked Rice, Pasta, Or Cereal 


Doughnut Or Danish 



Potato Salad 



Milk Or Yogurt

Fresh Cheeses 

Processed Cheeses

Ice Cream 

Lean Beef 

Fish Or Poultry

Peanut Butter 

1 Slice 

1/2 Cup 

1 (4 Inches In Diameter)

1/2 Medium Sized

2 Medium Sized

1/2 Cup

1/2 Cup

1 Piece, Medium Sized

1 Wedge

1 Cup

1 1/2 Ounces

2 Ounces

1 1/2 Cups

2 1/2 to 3 Ounces (After Cooking)

2 1/2 to 3 Ounces (After Cooking)

2 Tablespoons

Now that you've scanned this list, here are some questions to ponder: When was the last time you ate half a doughnut or Danish? If a restaurant served you a 2½-ounce cut of meat, wouldn't you wonder where the other half of your entree had gone?

What would you like on your (singular) 4-inch pancake? A thimbleful of syrup, perhaps? On a serious note, though, it’s important to understand that hearty American-sized servings are often two, three, and four times the USDA definition of a serving.

You’ll want to take this into account for serving sizes when you shop, cook, and eat out.

Author: Tanna Mayer

Updated: November 28 2014

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