I have recently been holidaying in America (or should I say vacationing?). I haven’t visited US for many, many years and never the mid-western part, with all the unbelievably fantastic National Parks. So it came as a bit of a shock to see the size of the food servings in even fine-dining restaurants as well as its consequence: the size of some of the American citizens.
Kettle and pot, we are guilty as charged in UK too, but not quite there yet. And our restaurateurs are significantly stingier in a European way. I don’t think there is any questioning the fact that those supersized plate contents contribute to the obesity plague.
Why are American portions so much larger than European ones?
One possible explanation for the larger portions in the US is that Americans value quantity over quality when it comes to food. They want to get more bang for their buck, and they associate bigger servings with better value and satisfaction. A nicely titled study by American scientists, Ice Cream Illusion, found that Americans perceive larger portions as more attractive and desirable than smaller ones.
Another possible explanation is that Americans are influenced by the abundance of food available in their country, and they have developed a habit of overeating and wasting food. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans waste about 30% of their food supply every year.
And that plenitude comes with a cost: higher obesity rates. As WHO reports, the US has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, with 36.2% of adults being obese in 2016. In contrast, the average obesity rate in Europe was 23.3% in 2016, with some countries like Italy and France having rates below 10% (Eurostat, 2019). Naturally – remember my post on snacking and the French?
It is simple: eating smaller portions can help reduce calorie intake, prevent overeating, and promote weight management. It can also help save money and reduce food waste. Smaller portions can still be satisfying, as long as they are balanced and nutritious.
And so, when cooking rice to go with kung pao chicken or scallop and asparagus stir fry, measure out no more than 100g/ ½ cup per person. Unless you’re planning on freezing half for future fried rice dishes, in which case measure out precisely twice as much and be disciplined in your servings.
One chicken fillet, unless really tiny, will serve two people in dishes like chicken Milanese or saltimbocca.
Noodles most often come in single person’s nests – don’t be tempted to double the amount ‘for good measure’. The same goes for pasta: 80g (3 oz.) or ¾ cup of chunky shapes is perfectly enough for one portion, and the same goes for grains and cereals: bulgur, spelt or couscous.
Beef is expensive so those 24 ounce American steaks are definitely not recommended as one serving! Sharing a cast iron steak or a reversely seared one is the way to go.
Also consider side dishes: if you prepare a good vegetable medley, will you really still need a filler of potatoes? Spiced roasted cauliflower is almost a meal in itself, so is stir fried cabbage. A balanced combo of protein and fibre will be satiating enough without a mound of chips next to it.
And for dessert, just bear in mind that a medium sized almond and raspberry cake cuts into 12 pieces to feed a dozen people – not four in one sitting.
Have a good week of ample portions!