I was recently at a lovely event with a buffet. The food was spectacular and there were many choices for eaters of all palates. What struck me was the large size of the plates provided. It felt like they were encouraging diners to take larger portions or to load up on many different foods. There’s no doubt that many adults and children have no idea what a reasonable portion looks like or even what constitutes a serving. In all honesty, the size of the plate matters more than you think.

Earlier that day, I came across photographs from my early childhood. I was having a tea party with my father at our place in the Ozarks. I remember that tea set, and I remember I used it many times with my family. My mother would place two to four small crackers or cookies on the serving platter. That was all it would hold. The plates only held one cracker or cookie. It was portion controlled snacking long before there was a marketing campaign about portion controlled snacking. For some reason, portion sizes are much larger than they were in my childhood. This is referred to as portion distortion.

Where it gets tricky is that some items are packaged as a single portion, but they contain multiple servings. A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread, one cup of dry cereal, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or one cup (eight ounces) of milk. The easiest way to know the serving size is to look at the nutrition facts label on the packaging. The nutrition facts label also provides valuable information about calories and the amount of other valuable nutrients. There are also general rules for selecting a serving size which help some individuals guide themselves to healthier eating.

Obesity is associated with an increased risk for developing as many as one fourth to one third of the new cancers diagnosed annually. This includes breast cancer, colon cancer, and endometrial cancer as well. As nurses, we need to encourage patients and family members to achieve a balanced diet and proper weight. This begins with an awareness of what a serving size is and trying to stick with proper portions. It’s time to get away from proportion distortion. As for me, I am glad my parents chose to limit snacks and encouraged me to run and play in our neighborhood at the place in the Ozarks.