We can all learn what to eat as an older adult, but then we come to the $64,000 question: What is a serving size? For that, I turn to Simin Levinson who is a proponent of using your hands to determine portion sizes.  Simin Levinson, MS, RDN, CSSD is Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.

At ASU, nutritionists recommend using your hands to determine portion sizes. A portion of chicken, fish, beef or other protein is the size and width of your palm. Starchy carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes and rice are the size of your fist. A serving of fat, including peanut butter, olive oil or butter, is half a thumb.

A fruit serving fits in the palm of one hand, vegetables in the palm of two hands.

Using your hands to determine portion sizes for pasta as an example: A serving size is the size of your fist (approximately one-half cup). If you were to make a pile of spaghetti the size of your fist on a plate it represents one serving hands are your food portion size guideor portion size.

It is recommended that older adults consume about six servings of grain in a given day (according to the food guide pyramid for older adults). So when you go to an Italian restaurant and order spaghetti, you are likely being served all the grain you need for an entire day in one setting.

Even something as simple as a bagel and cream cheese can be viewed differently with this method. Since a serving of cream cheese is the length of your thumb, you could easily eat your entire dairy allotment and two or more servings of starches just by eating a one bagel with cream cheese for breakfast.

Thus using your hands to determine portion sizes is very practical.  They are an “always with you guide” for measuring serving sizes as well as controlling your portions. No matter where you are your serving size guides are with you.

To help you visualize how to use your hands to determine serving size, we took the advice on Simin Levinson’s video and created a handy visual shown here. You can use this to easily apply portion control by understanding what a serving size is. You can download our  “Handy Guide to Portion Sizes” and carry it with you until you have it memorized.

using your hands to determine portion sizes

As Levinson said, “Unlike a deck of cards, tennis ball, measuring cups or other visual images, hands are always at the table with you. They are practical and accurate.”


Learn More about the Food Guide for Older Adults and Things to Consider when Preparing Meals for Older Adults