Say No to Super Sized Portions!

September 17, 2015

Research is telling us that by simply making our portions smaller, we could possibly improve the health profile of our population and our planet.

By Sally Smithwick, Managing Editor, SupermarketGuru and co-host of Lost in the Supermarket with Phil Lempert. 

I love to cook, but I also love the experience of eating in a restaurant. Of course there are many differences in the food I make at home for my family and our options in restaurants, but the one difference that has been on my mind the most lately is portion sizes. Is it just me or does it seem like restaurant servers these days need to also be weightlifters in order to carry those gigantic plates? Yes, I’m talking about those huge plates with piles of food that feel so embarrassing in the way they crowd the table and honestly make a diner feel like they just trotted up to the feeding trough?

What I have learned about eating out, having two small children and being faced with unappetizing choices on the kids menu that are an outright waste of money and food, is that I can order one entree, share it with my two kids, and everyone is satisfied.

Recent research published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on Sept. 14, from the University of Cambridge, provides evidence that less availability to super-sized portions alone can reduce Americans’ caloric intake by 29%. The concept is not surprising, but the statistic is hugely significant for a culture currently plagued by obesity and facing a major health crisis. Is it possible that smaller plates could make that much of a difference in our nation’s health profile? Instead of focusing on complicated diets, ingredients, counting calories, and the mental anguish of depriving yourself of foods you love followed by the inevitable guilt for cheating, could it be as simple as eating less of what you already eat?  

Sarah Hays Coomer, fitness trainer, blogger and author of the forthcoming book, Lightness of Body and Mind: A Radical Approach to Weight and Wellness, says,Adjusting portion sizes is one of the simplest, most straightforward ways to lose weight and has the added benefit of not making you feel deprived. I've seen clients have measurable success by simply eating 3/4 of what they would normally eat, without depriving themselves of their favorite foods.”

There’s more to this story. Oversized portions are having an undeniable effect on our nation’s waistlines, but what about the toll it’s taking on our growing food waste problem? We see the headlines daily. Half of the world’s food is going to waste. 

The USDA reports that between 30 and 40 percent of our food supply is wasted, costing us around $165 billion annually. In addition, the Natural Resources Defense Council has published statistics showing that wasted food accounts for 25% of our fresh water, 31% of  the country’s crop land, 33 million tons of landfill waste, and 25% of methane emissions. Is it also possible that if we downsize our portions, we can also significantly improve the health profile of our planet? 

At home I’m learning to better control food waste, and this is coming from a southern woman who learned to cook from my mother and grandmother, both of which admitted they “only knew how to cook for an army!” The food can still be just as comforting and delicious, just less of it, and maybe the result will be less waste, less “waist,” and more money in your pocket. 

And if we as consumers can trim down the portions, maybe we can convince the food industry to stop shoveling such large amounts of food in front of us. Maybe they will start experimenting more with “smaller plate” menu items, as some have already started doing. Or maybe our supermarkets can better guide us with ways to sensibly shop for the size of our households. Recipes can be tailored for less waste. If I were a kitchenware designer, I might even promote a line of plates that are sized somewhere in between the dinner and the salad plate. 

It’s up to us to change our personal approach to serving sizes and get the message out that we don’t want to see our food wasted. It’s time to break this habit of “over doing it” that is detrimental to our bodies and the Earth. Are you with me? Just say no to super-sizing!