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Prairie Fare: Right-size Your Portions

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Does the size of the plate make a difference in how much food people eat?

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“I remember these plates,” my 13-year-old son said as he sat down to our evening meal.

“These are the plates we used when I was about 5,” my 10-year-old daughter noted.

“I don’t remember these plates at all!” my 5-year-old exclaimed.

“The food looks really different on these white plates. They’re smaller than the brown plates,” my husband commented.

“I think they’re the same size as the brown plates. They just look smaller because they have a blue rim,” I remarked as I served food to my hungry bunch.

I stopped to compare the plate sizes. My husband was right about the plates! He was right by about one-fourth of an inch.

I didn’t know that bringing our old dishes out of storage would result in such a lively discussion about dinner plates.

In our home, I tend to serve the food based on my observations of how much everyone usually eats. When my husband is the evening chef, he puts the food in serving bowls on the table instead of on plates.

My main reason to avoid serving bowls is to avoid extra dishes to wash.

As I thought about styles of serving food, some questions came to mind. If you serve large portions, will people really eat more or will they leave the excess food on their plates? Does the size of the plate make a difference in how much food people eat?

Nutrition researchers have studied these questions in controlled lab studies. At this time of year, with holiday parties and special foods, we can apply some of the research in the real world.

Barbara Rolls and her research team at Pennsylvania State University served 51 men and women carefully weighed amounts of macaroni and cheese for lunch one time a week for four weeks.

The food was placed on their plates or in serving dishes, which allowed them to eat as much as they wanted. The amount of food provided for the participants varied from 18 ounces to 40 ounces during the four lunches.

As it turns out, the method of serving made no difference. They ate more food if more food was provided. It didn’t matter whether it was on their plates or in a serving bowl.

In fact, they ate 30 percent more calories when the largest portion was offered compared with the smallest portion.

In other words, if you serve a lot of food on plates or in serving bowls, people tend to eat more.

In a separate study about plate size, 45 participants were served the same amount of food on different-sized plates on different days. They ate about the same amount of food regardless of the size of the plate.

This holiday season, try to right-size your portions. Learn how much food you need by visiting Remember that an extra 100 calories a day can add up to a 10-pound weight gain in a year.

Here’s an easy recipe high in flavor and low in fat.

Chicken Curry

2 3/4 pounds of chicken breasts, without skin

1 16-ounce jar of salsa (mild or medium)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 Tbsp. curry powder

1 c. fat-free sour cream

Place chicken in slow cooker. Combine salsa, onions and curry powder and pour over chicken. Cover with lid. Cook on low for eight to 10 hours (or high for five hours). Remove chicken to serving platter, but cover it to keep it warm. Add sour cream to salsa mixture in the slow cooker. Blend and pour over the chicken. Serve over rice or noodles.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving (using boneless, skinless chicken breasts) has 180 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 9 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 270 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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