Monday, 10 January 2011

Portion Sizes

One of my jobs is in a fast food place, and, as the lady who hands out balloons, I see a lot of people with their kids. Often, they are trying to get their children to finish their food, often with the promised reward of ice cream.

I'm not about to pretend that fast food is good for you. It should be a treat, if it's eaten at all. If your kid tells you they've had enough fat and sugar, for the love of god, don't bribe them with more if they finish the rest. Save those battles for when you want them to eat broccoli!

Sorry, went off on a tangent there.

Another interesting thing about fast food, or any prepared food, is the portion sizes. I was in a hotel in Liverpool last week (great trip, fantastic city), and the bowl of pasta they gave me...well, let's see, a portion of pasta is one cooked cup, about the size of a fist. This was easily three or four times that, with barely half to one cups of cooked vegetables served with it. I try to follow Canadian nutritional guidelines, and that's almost half my grain for the entire day.

Paperchase in Selfridges is stocking these!  They're children's bento boxes, and not suitable for microwaving, but they are cute.  Only about a 400ml capacity.  I'll be writing about them at the end of the post.:D
Fast food, too, has expanded their portion sizes by a lot. Almost all brands started with only one size of fries, and one or two drinks. Those were pretty good portion sizes, considering a portion of potato is about half a cup. The range of sizes expanded upwards, though, and now, a medium fries is easily two or three portions. Burgers, too - originally, a hamburger and small fries - a kid's meal, now - was considered perfectly adequate food for an adult. Large sizes are new and crazy.

We don't need that much food. Not at one meal, and often, not in one day. But, if anyone tried to sell us correct portion sizes, we'd feel short-changed. I think most people today don't have a natural idea of what a correct portion actually looks like.

I've been watching what I eat a lot recently, since, as you know, I've made some pretty big diet changes over the last few months. I was raised on chips (fries) at every meal, and very rarely ate vegetables. I wanted to use this opportunity, of becoming vegan, to go the whole hog (if you'll pardon the expression), and try to learn what a balanced diet with proper portions actually looks like. I've been constantly googling; how much is a portion of potato, of pasta, of salad, of bread? I have no clue, no mental image.

For the record; a portion of vegetables is about half a cup. Salad or other leafy things, is closer to one or two cups, depending on how densely you pack it. Fruit, one large, ie, a banana or apple, or two small, ie, a satsuma. Berries, something like seven larger berries (strawberries) or fourteen small ones (grapes). Raisins, only two tablespoons. Fruit juice, about 140ml, but you can only count it once a day, no matter how much you drink. Smoothies are more, since they include whole fruits, quite densely packed; you can get two for 250ml. Some of that info came from here, some from other sources. I try to aim for six-seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

For grain; a slice of bread is one. A cup of cooked pasta is one, or half dry weight. Bagels can be up to five portions, and you don't even want to know about subs and baguettes (eyeball it based on size).  And so on.  I'd list more examples, but the Canadian government nutrition sites have been down since Christmas.

I'm very much in favour of people learning about correct portion sizes (another point for my beloved Gizzi).  That's one thing I really like about bento boxes.

Incredibly simple bento - bread with vegan margarine, green salad, and peanuts for protein.  The little jar is salad dressing.

Bentos are Japanese lunches, packed in a certain way.  Normally, half grain, one third vegetables, and one sixth protein, packed without gaps.  Packed this way, the meal will usually average about the same number of calories as the millilitre count of the box, so usually 600ml boxes are used.

Bentos are designed to be attractive, as well as balanced.  Some are made into scenes, but simpler ones just include cute accessories and a variety of colours.

Mine comes together like that, see?

I want to get a microwaveable bento box, and recreate Wetherspoons sweet potato and chick pea curry.  That, with rice, and some other protein source would be nice in a bento.

Incidentally, you don't really need a special box.  Any tupperware container can be used; you can check the ml by filling it with water, and then measuring that with a measuring jug.  I just like my little characters.

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