Weighing up portion sizes

Getting portion sizes right in hospitality is a balancing act. You want to be generous and have the customer feel they’re getting value for money, yet too-large portions can mean overeating or wastage – neither of which are desirable.

It’s relatively easy to know if food is being wasted; just look at the plates returning to the kitchen and see how much food is left over. But over-consumption of food can be harder to spot. There is little doubt people will eat more if more food is served to them, regardless of hunger. 

Smaller portion sizes can also be more profitable. For example, a 150g muffin could be sold for $3.50, but if you make a muffin half this size you could still sell it for $2 and make a greater gross margin. The same applies to any other food item. It is safer to err on the side of smaller rather than larger portions, and if the customer wants more food they can order something else from the menu.

The health of your customers can also be compromised by excessive portions, with overeating leading to unnecessary weight gain as well as weight-related health issues. It’s easy to eat more food and drink than our body needs for our daily activities, but the body does need a certain amount of food to function well every day. So how much is enough?

Your own hand and plate can be an easy guide to check your meal portions and ingredients, and decide on the right portion size for food:

  • Closed fist
    • A closed fist is a good guide for a portion of starchy carbohydrate foods like taro, potato, rice, banana and bread
    • Tip – if you want more than one carbohydrate in your meal, reduce the size of each one, so the total is the size of one fist
  • Palm of your hand
    • The palm of your hand is a good guide for a portion of red meat or chicken
    • Tip – The thickness of the meat should be about the same thickness as the palm of your hand
  • Whole of your hand
    • The whole of your hand is a good portion guide for a piece of fish (instead of meat in your meal)
    • Tip – Your whole hand is about the size of one fish fillet
  • 2 cupped hands
    • Your two hands cupped together is a good guide for the portion of non-starchy vegetables like carrots, broccoli, beetroot, cauliflower or eggplant
    • Tip – choose vegetables from all the colours of the rainbow. Each colour provides a different range of nutrients.

You can use this guide for planning children’s meals as well; just remember they have much smaller hands (and appetites!) than adults. 

If you’re looking to reduce portion sizes it’s a good idea to initially focus on processed food, which is high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat. Then move on to the meat, cheese and carbohydrate components of a meal. If you’re afraid your plate will look a little empty, why not fill it with more vegetables? These are generally cheap and should be eaten in larger quantities than other foods.

Food Portions PDF