When you pour yourself a bowl of cereal, how much do you pour? A bowlful, right? But what size bowl? And what portion of the box are you consuming?

I recently started portioning out my coffee creamer in an effort to wean myself off of it. I started by cutting down to one Splenda because I wanted to stop using the fake sweetener, and in conjunction I started measuring an actual serving size of the creamer. And you know what I noticed? My bottle of creamer is supposed to provide 32 servings. Before I started measuring it, I just went by the color of my coffee. Now that I know what a serving looks like, I’m sure that to get that color I used far more than a serving. Now, sure, I purchased that bottle on sale and with a coupon, but that’s no reason to waste it. In fact, my pursuit of frugal strategies makes me want to make it last even longer!

I started reading the nutrition label on other things and trying to measure out a serving. I know that serving sizes are somewhat arbitrary, but on most things it ends up being a smaller portion than I would have consumed otherwise. It turns out that for most cereals, the serving size is between half a cup and a cup. (And conveniently, the bowls I got from my parents that are what I have eaten cereal out of my entire life are just about the perfect size!) This means most boxes of cereal contain 10+ servings of the correct size. Wow! If I get a good deal on my cereal and spend around $2.00 per box (my buy price for cereal), that’s giving me a lot of bang for my buck.

Not only is this a good way to make your foods last longer, it’s also a healthy choice. It is SO easy to eat far more than a serving size, and thus far more calories than you really need. Ideally each of your meals should be 400-500 calories, with snacks coming in at about 200 calories. Guess what? My serving of cereal, with about a cup of milk, plus a piece of fruit clocks in just about perfectly. So someone was paying some sort of attention when they typed out those nutrition facts. Many weight loss success stories I’ve read have started with the person simply deciding to pay attention to portion size. I’m not going to bust out a kitchen scale, but I’m willing to measure out a few things. And once you start measuring, you learn what the various measures look like (especially if you’re using the same size plate or bowl every time), and you eventually don’t have to be as precise.

I’ve noticed that a serving size of snacks like trail mix and nuts is MUCH smaller than the amount I usually eat. These are great snacks to have in your diet, but nuts are high in fat, so you have to be a bit careful. A serving of mixed nuts is about 1/4 cup, which looks pretty tiny when you put it into a ziploc bag.


But nuts are high in fat, so they satiate you really well.

Now, sure, there’s a time and a place to throw serving size to the wind and just enjoy yourself. I just ate an entire bag of popcorn which was undoubtedly meant to serve more than one. But if you’re trying to be healthy and save money, paying attention to what constitutes a serving is a great place to start.

(This can also apply to personal care and household goods. I especially think about it with laundry detergent–if I measure it correctly, one bottle bought for under $3.00 can last me more than 30 loads, which is 3-ish months in my household!)

Do you measure out servings of your meals or snacks? Have the serving sizes of any foods surprised you?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman