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Prairie Fare: Try Using Smaller Plates and Spoons

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Try using smaller plates and smaller serving spoons to help people serve themselves more moderate-sized portions.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I heard the sound of a spoon scraping the bottom of a bowl. I looked over at the dinner table to see who had reached the bottom of his or her dessert bowl first. I had a hunch.

“Do you want another piece of apple crisp?” I asked my husband.

“Yes, and more ice cream, too,” he replied.

“Is this enough ice cream?” I asked as I added a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream to the warm apple crisp. I knew what the answer would be.

“Add a little more, please,” he said with a grin.

I debated whether I should hand him a tiny spoon to eat his second dessert so eating it would take a little longer. I put away the ice cream and the apple crisp at that point.

I had just read a study about how the size of bowls and utensils influences portion size. Researcher and food psychologist Brian Wansink and his colleagues at Cornell University set up an ice cream social. Some of the “guests” were nutrition experts.

Not only were they celebrating the success of a colleague, but the researchers also were testing their theory about how environmental cues influence portion sizes.

Some people were provided with a small (17-ounce) bowl, while others were given a large (34-ounce) bowl. Some people were given a small (2-ounce) scoop and others a larger (3-ounce) scoop. Some received both a larger bowl and a larger scoop. They served themselves a bowl of ice cream, then their portion was weighed.

Even nutrition experts who used larger bowls served themselves about 30 percent more ice cream. Those who used a larger scoop served themselves 15 percent more ice cream. Those who used both a large scoop and bowl served themselves a hearty portion: about 57 percent more ice cream.

We can learn some things from this experiment that can be applied to portion control, and ultimately, weight management. Try using smaller plates and smaller serving spoons to help people serve themselves more moderate-sized portions. For people who need to gain some weight, try the opposite.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, however, eating more is better. Many people shortchange themselves on fruits and vegetables.

Make fruits and vegetables readily available in your “food environment.” Perhaps using a large bowl and large spoon would be a way to encourage people to enjoy more fruits and vegetables. Savor the fruits and vegetables of the season at their best quality and price.

For example, crisp apples, a fall favorite, can be used in a variety of ways and are a good source of fiber. A medium apple, which is about the size of a tennis ball, contains about 80 calories, 3 grams of dietary fiber and only a trace of fat. The type of fiber apples contain, called pectin, has been linked with lowering blood cholesterol and potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.

Remember to wash the apples with plenty of water, but no soap, before eating. If you press apples to make apple juice or cider, be sure to heat the juice to at least 165 degrees to kill bacteria that could be present. Foodborne illness outbreaks have been associated with fresh, unpasteurized apple juice. Store heat-treated apple juice in the refrigerator.

I mentioned apple crisp, so I suppose providing a recipe for that delicious dessert is in order. Remember that desserts can fit in a healthy diet, but offer moderate portions on small plates.

Here’s a recipe adapted from the Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Program.

Apple Crisp

4 to 5 medium-sized apples (4 cups)

1/4 c. quick-cooking oatmeal

1/4 c. flour

1/2 c. brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 c. margarine or butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan. Rinse the apples and remove the cores. Slice the apples. Spread the sliced apples on the bottom of the pan. Cut the butter or margarine into small pieces and put in a medium-sized bowl. Add the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Using a pastry cutter or knife, cut the butter or margarine into the mixture until it looks like small crumbs. Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the apples. Bake for about 20 minutes, until apples are tender.

Note: You can substitute other types of fruit, such as pears or peaches, for the apples.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, 28 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 50 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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