How the size of dinner plates affects portion control

colorful dinner plates

Believe it or not, the size and color of your plates have a lot to do with portion control. Most of us really do eat with our eyes, so to speak. If you’re given a large plate or bowl do you only fill half of it? Most of us would fill the entire thing, and once it’s in front of us, we feel compelled to to eat it all. If, on the other hand, you use a smaller plate or bowl, you’re likely to eat — and be satisfied with — that portion.

 

A couple of years ago, I made one simple switch — I started serving my portion of dinner on smaller plates. Kind of like the difference between a standard plate as shown in the photo, and the smaller size, which might be more like a lunch plate. Even though I didn’t particularly need to lose weight, I have very slowly lost 5 or 6 pounds in that time. We tend to fill up whatever kind of plate we use, and I find I’m just as satisfied with the portion that fits on the smaller plate. In fact, I enjoy not feeling stuffed after a meal. I have another rule — I wait 15 to 20 minutes before taking seconds, and 95% of the time, I no longer want to after the wait, as that’s how long it takes for the message to reach the brain that you are satiated. Consider:

  • Since the early 1900s, the size of a normal American dinner plate has become at least 25% larger. In the 1960s, plates were roughly 9 inches in diameter. In the 1980s, they grew to around 10 inches. By the year 2000, the average dinner plate was 11 inches in diameter, and now, it’s not unusual to find dishes that are 12 inches or larger. And that’s aside from restaurant plates, which can sometimes resemble small boats! And of course, the larger the plate, the calories the food that’s on it can really add up.
  • Even the sizes of drinking glasses have grown, which means we’re adding even more calories by drinking them. It is better to use tall, thin glasses, unless you’re drinking water, in which case go for a big glass!
  • Some studies have shown that there’s a correlation between the color of your dinner plate and how much you’re likely to eat. People are less likely to overeat when there is a high contrast between the food, plates, glasses and tablecloths, for example. While you might take these studies with a grain of salt, one thing that’s hard to argue with is that most people will eat whatever is put in front of them, even if it’s too much.
  • An empty stomach is the size of a fist, more or less. It can expand up to 10 times its original size to accommodate food. But why stretch it? Once expanded, over time, it’s less likely to shrink back to its original size. That’s why smaller meals, and smaller portions are the wise route to take. And the size of your plates, bowls, and glasses can help you limit your intake at each meal.

For more tips on plant-based nutrition, make sure to browse VegKitchen’s Nutrition page.

Shana Paluba is a regular contributor to VegKitchen.

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4 comments on “How the size of dinner plates affects portion control

  1. Ruchama

    One easy thing to do without buying new plates etc.is to do what I’ve done for years. Use the large dinner plate for salad and the small “salad plate” for the entree. Often at a festive meal on Shabbat I find I’ve filled myself up with salad and don’t need as much of the entree and little or no dessert. Serving a large and fiber-rich/oil poor salad is not only healthful, it helps when you have a lot of hungry guests. No one feels hungry even if you are serving more people than you planned for. It also helps to have some canned grape leaves, artichokes, and hearts of palm on had to serve as filling, low calorie appetizers (vegan mayonnaise still has fat, so go easy on that!_

  2. Darrell

    I have been reading with great humor the “Low Fat” / “Low Carb” diet comparisons. For years, I have been using the bread (Salad) plate for entrees. I’ve lost 40 pounds this way. Perhaps, someone should propose to the AMA, et. al. the “Low Volume” diet. Maybe we could end up with a healthier America.

  3. Nava

    Darrell, you’re so right and I love this comment. I just actually saw a story about how the typical restaurant meal is 4 times the volume of those of the 1950s! I think there’s something instinctive about eating what’s in front of us, left over from survival mode of millennia ago. It’s so easy to be satisfied with much less. Thanks for “weighing in”!

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