amount of food you eat plays a significant role.  Knowing what is a proper portion of food and how to measure that portion without having to pull out all sorts of scales and cups is the easy part."> amount of food you eat plays a significant role.  Knowing what is a proper portion of food and how to measure that portion without having to pull out all sorts of scales and cups is the easy part."> amount of food you eat plays a significant role.  Knowing what is a proper portion of food and how to measure that portion without having to pull out all sorts of scales and cups is the easy part."> Food Wednesdays: Diets That Work. Really. | In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor |
In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Food Wednesdays: Diets That Work. Really.

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Jan 10, 2012 11:00 PM

With New Year’s comes the endless parade of celebrity slim downs in the form of commercials and info-mercials pitching this product or plan, or that weight-loss program.  If you listen closely, read between the lines, and think about what these celeb-pitched programs are telling you, you’ll soon discover that the only thing the program does for you – in one form or another – is control the amount of food you eat.  By portioning out your meals, your snacks, and your beverages, these programs and plans slash your calorie intake, so of course you lose weight!  That’s how diets that work actually work.  You eat less; you move more (or at least enough to burn the calories you eat).  Whether you want to lose weight, eat healthy, or even stay on a budget, the amount of food you eat plays a significant role.  Knowing what is a proper portion of food and how to measure a portion without having to pull out all sorts of scales and cups is the easy part.  Choosing only to eat that is an entirely different story.  To help you at least as far as determining the amount you actually need to eat, read on.  For a good dose of self-discipline?  Well, you can always visit the self-help section of your nearest bookstore or consider that you can be full and satisfied in just Three Bites.

If you are like the millions of people whose New Year’s Resolution is somehow tied to food, and actually serious about it, chances are you’re sailing into unchartered territory.  All nutrition information is provided on labels or in a format that is presented for “one serving.”  Unfortunately, “one serving” can be any amount from 1 teaspoon (or even less) to 1 cup to 1 bag or something all-together different.  It’s confusing and daunting, and probably leads to more people over-eating than anything else. You simply don’t know that you are.  To help you get a better grip on portion control you need look only at your hand.  From there you can approximate weights and measures, which can help anyone stay the course, no matter where you are or what’s presented to you to eat. 


Your hand provides a personalized visual of what an appropriate portion looks like for your body.  Whether you are in the kitchen preparing a meal, in the grocery store sizing up the quantity of food in a package, or even eating out, a casual glance toward your hand gives you a quick check on portion size. 

•           Your open palm is equivalent to about 3 ounces of meat or fish; a closed fist is about 1 serving (4 ounces (for poultry and meat) to 6 ounces (for fish)).

•           A loose fist, turned vertically (thumb on top), is about the size of 1 cup.  This is useful to measure amounts of cooked rice and pasta, cut vegetables, or fruit.

If you have a bigger hand then naturally your portion yield will be larger.  But then again, you probably have a bigger body to fuel.  And while these measurements are only approximations they can be quite useful in the kitchen: they provide a quick-check when you don’t want to be a stickler about weights and measures. 

One of our biggest problems when it comes to our national health is that we are “serving-size challenged,” or so says the registered dieticians at  They say that because we confuse portion size with serving size we consume far more food than we think.  The bottom line, a “portion” should be thought of as the amount of a specific food you choose to eat.  A “serving” is a unit of measure that describes the specific amount of food that is recommended that you eat.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) says that your genetic makeup helps determine how your body burns calories for energy and stores fat.  But it is our own behavior that determines the amount of food we consume and our daily activity.  That is what determines whether we get fat or not.  Every day, your body uses calories to perform activities such as breathing, moving around, and even digesting the food we consume.  If you eat more calories than needed for these activities, the extra calories are stored as fat.  For an average adult, this means that eating a mere 100 calories more a day causes a weight gain of about 1 pound in a month.  That’s “treating” yourself to one of those little 100-calorie snack packets per day.  We think nothing of it until “suddenly” we’re 5 pounds heavier.  Suddenly we’ve gained weight, and have trouble understanding how it happened. 

We all know that regular physical activity burns excess calories and prevents weight gain, but only a small percentage of adults commit to regular physical activity.  To help even out the playing field for those who don’t or can’t exercise daily, keeping your eye on your portions – or your serving size.  Eat only that and you’ll get a lot closer to consuming only that which your body will burn.  Or, you can take your hard earned money and pay to have a weight-loss plan or company portion out your meals for you.  Personally, I’d rather keep the money, eat what I want, and just keep smart about the portion I’m supposed to eat.

The truth is that when it comes to keeping a Resolution to lose the weight, get healthy, or just even save some money, it’s up to you.  No one can stop you from eating more than one serving, but as long as you’re using your hand to get the food in your mouth, why not take a quick look to see if the amount of food you’re about to eat measures up.  At least if you take some of the excuses away maybe that self-discipline will kick in. 

To help you practice on portion and serving size control, try these two super simple, super delicious cooking methods.  These techniques get your food to the table lightning fast, but also help you keep an eye on serving size. 

Recipe:  Steam Sautéed Vegetables
This method is perfect for any vegetable!  Searing the vegetables in the pan helps caramelize their natural sugars; steaming the vegetables make them pleasantly palatable.  Finally, the addition of a tiny bit of soy sauce and vinegar creates a luscious glaze that takes the flavor over the top – all in less than 15 minutes!

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (substitute grapeseed or canola oil)
2 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 cups fresh vegetables sliced (about 1/4-inch thick) or cut into bite size pieces
Coarse (Kosher) salt
1 shallot, minced (to yield about 1 ½ tablespoons)
2 cloves garlic, minced (to yield about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce (substitute Low-Sodium Soy Sauce if preferred)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a large, heavy sauté pan (with a lid, or have a heavy duty piece of aluminum foil ready to act as a cover) over medium-high heat place 2 tablespoons olive oil and butter.  After the butter is melted and bubbling add the vegetables and toss to coat (Note: try to spread your vegetables so that they rest in an even single layer on the bottom of the pan.  The deeper the layer, the longer the process takes).  Season the vegetables with a generous pinch of coarse (Kosher) salt and toss.  Sauté the vegetables without disturbing for about 3 minutes, or until nicely golden brown on the underside and the vegetables begin to render out their moisture.


Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the shallots and garlic; toss to combine.  Add ¼ cup of water and immediately cover.  Cook until the vegetables soften to a desired consistency, and the shallots and garlic are soft, but not brown, about 3-5 minutes, depending on the vegetable.  Remove the cover and add the soy sauce.  Toss to combine.  Add the vinegars and toss to coat the vegetables.  Reduce the heat to low and cook about 1 to 2 minutes more until the liquid thickens and the vegetables are glazed.  Taste.  Adjust seasoning with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, or a dash more of the sherry or balsamic vinegar, if needed.  Serve immediately.

Recipe: Perfect Pan-Roasted Chicken
This is the fastest and easiest way I know to perfectly cook individual portions of lean protein (except for (maybe) on the grill).  This method gets your dinner on the table in no time, and frees up your hands to get any final preparations underway.

1 4-6 ounce lean protein (cut oversized meats into individual portion/serving size)
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons butter
Coarse (kosher) salt and fresh ground pepper, to season

Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

Place an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat; add the oil and butter.  Season your protein with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper.  When the butter is melted add the protein to the skillet, top side (serving side) down.  Pan sear undisturbed for about 4 to 6 minutes until golden brown and nicely seared (Note: depending on the type of protein:  fish take less time; thicker cuts of meat or poultry take longer).  Turn the protein over and brown the other side, about 3 to 5 minutes more. 


Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the protein is cooked through (use an instant read thermometer to check desired doneness), usually about 4 to 8 additional minutes (thicker cuts of meat can take as long as 12 minutes more).

Remove the skillet from the oven and loosely cover with aluminum foil.  Let protein rest for 5 to 15 minutes so juices can redistribute.

Transfer to a warmed dinner plate and serve immediately.


Recipes and Photo Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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