Plate Size and Portion Size

January 27, 2012

Several studies have come out lately relating portion size to plate size and color. What’s the round up?

Portion sizes are something consumers battle with the most, and trying not to overeat is a difficult task for many, but a new study suggests that our dinnerware, both size and color, could be a key factor in changing how much we consume.

The study from Georgia Tech, Plate Size and Color Suggestibility, found that color contrast between our food and the plate has a huge impact on actual consumption. If the food is a similar color to the plate, people will serve and eat about 22% more than if the colors of the food and plate contrast. In a previous study, the researchers linked plate size to serving size. When attempting to serve a specific portion, those with bigger plates often serve more, while those with small plates serve less. To boot, when a plate and the food on it are the same color, the effect is exaggerated.

Consumer tip? Use big plates for salad and smaller plates for the main course, but don’t forget to go light on the creamy salad dressing.

Another study from the journal, Appetite, found that eating from a red plate could help prevent overeating. Serving up meals on red plates or drinking from red cups cut consumption by about 40%, according to the study.  Researchers say the color red may discourage overeating, because it is commonly associated with the idea of “danger and stop.”

Start these habits early – another study recently released and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that feeding kids smaller portions of the main dish at lunch means they'll eat more fruit and vegetables offered on the side and fewer total calories.

Researchers from Penn State University served 17 kids six different variations of the same meal, one day each week for lunch. The meals had anywhere from less than half a cup (about 145 calories) to more than a cup and a half (about 390 calories) of mac and cheese (the main dish) as well as green beans and unsweetened applesauce, plus a whole grain roll and milk. Researchers found that the bigger the entrée size served, the less of the healthy side dishes kids ate and vice versa. Kids also consumed less calories overall when served a smaller entrée portion.

Encourage consumers to be more aware of portion size by using contrasting plates and serving on smaller dishes.