Do you remember when fast food places started to ‘upsize’ meals, add fries and a drink for a few cents more?
Since I didn’t eat at McDonalds and KFC, I felt pretty smug I wasn’t super sizing my meals.
But around the same time, I was reading Brian Wansink’s research (he wrote ‘Mindless Eating’) and had a shock. It turned out I was super sizing EVERYTHING I was eating and drinking. And worst of all? I had no clue!
Where do I start? Just about all our food and drink has upsized over the past 30 years. Don’t believe it? Come along and check these out with me…
Shopping for your food
To start with, any food sold in a box or packet has grown. Breakfast cereals have doubled or more in size, others such as cookies can be 5 times bigger. And chocolate is growing, from a one serve 25g to 70g or bigger bar.
Why bigger? If the box takes up more space on the shelf, it’s going to catch your eye and sell more.
Bread has upsized 40% or more, but you’ll often still eat 2 slices toasted for breakfast or as a sandwich at lunch.
Have you noticed that chicken breasts are massive now? They can weigh a hefty 300g, up from about 100g some 20 years ago.
And all the baking such as muffins, scones and croissants have easily doubled in size.
Hey it’s value for money right? Well maybe, but not value for health!
You see, we’re used to eating a chicken breast, one or two cookies, a muffin or a scone per meal. This was fine some 20 years ago, but with the gradual and relentless growth of food, we’re now eating so much more volume.
And even fruit and vegetables are bigger. Look at apples and bananas and oranges. To get a ‘normal’ size apple you have to buy a ‘kiddie’s’ pack of apples.
Eating at home
Okay so armed with this knowledge, you get the food home and think you can avoid upsizing. Right? Wrong!
We rely on our eyes to help determine how much to eat and drink.
So we’ve grown up pouring cereal into the bowl usually to the same point, maybe ½ full in your bowl.
But what happens when you buy a new set of bowls that happen to be bigger? I bet you still fill it half way!
And serving your main meal, if your plates are bigger, you will probably use your eyes to gauge how much of the plate to fill.
I love the story of a lady who visited an antique shop. She saw these gorgeous dinner plates and wanted a full set. So she asked the shop owner if there were more than 2 of these dinner plates. He then replied saying “Madam, these are not dinner plates, they are serving platters!”
Ever since the 1980’s, new plates have become huge, usually white platters, without any border.
Most entree or luncheon plates our grandparents used were 13 cm across the middle and the dinner plate was about 15 cm across the middle. And they had a border, which you never put food on. But the great thing about a border is that your eyes believe you are eating a large portion!
Today’s plates are easily 21 cm across the middle which holds twice as much food or even 29cm across which holds almost 4 times more food than our grandparents’ dinner plate!
Go and measure your plates – you will be amazed!
Have a look here at the same food served on different plates.
Here on the right is the meal served on our modern white set of plates and bowl and typical modern tea cup. Just look at the size of the pan au chocolat croissant from our local supermarket, yikes!
When I first learned about portion distortion, I started to use our entrée plates at dinner. But then a few weeks later, I realized I was still being fooled! You can see the plates have a very narrow border, so we were still eating off 18 cm diameter plates!
You will notice the rest of the set including the bowl is still very large.
That’s when I started hunting for plates with a small middle and a defined, wide rim. Do you know, I couldn’t’ find any new in the shops. I had to go hunting in the antique shops.
Just look at how grossly big those huge portions of chicken and the chocolate croissant now look on the old style crockery.
The problem is if all our crockery and cutlery get bigger, we generally still fill the plate, so end up eating more. It’s no wonder we are often eating 30% or more food with no clue.
It turns out that our eyes are a poor judge and easily miss a 30% change in size.
Baking at home
And do you know that even recipes have upsized in newer editions of recipe books? Have you noticed when you make a batch of cookies from an old recipe that you never get as many as the recipe says? That’s because the cookies you make are bigger now!
Even what we bake with including muffin trays and loaf tins are massive compared to our grandmothers’ home ware.
Drinking – it’s also been super sized
And even our drinks aren’t immune to the upsizing that has gradually happened.Here’s a great example.
Wine bottles have remained the same 750ml throughout the years.
30 years ago you routinely got 7 glasses of wine from a bottle.
So here is the puzzle- why do we only (barely!) get 4 glasses of wine from a bottle now?
Yes our wine glasses have grown too. Here are 3 wine glasses each holding 110ml. We usually fill our glass to the usual 1/2 to 3/4 mark , so now we are easily drinking ½ a bottle of wine from just 2 glasses!
The same applies to fizzy drinks, which used to be sold in 240 ml bottles but have steadily grown to 600 ml or up to 3 litre bottles now. Cleverly the food industry then get rid of the smaller size version so the bigger bottle or cup becomes the new small or regular size. Look at takeaway coffee cups and the size of some ‘regular’ sizes now.
Tricks to achieve portion perfection
- Buy foods in smaller boxes or when you get home, split the supersized box of cereal into smaller bags.
- Portion large amounts of meat or chicken into smaller pieces for the fridge or freezer.
- Buy smaller portions of chocolate and avoid the ‘2 for 1’ special. You’ll only eat it sooner than planned.
- Buy small pre portioned ice creams rather than have larger tubs of ice cream in the freezer.
Tricks to fool the eyes into thinking you are eating and drinking a large portion
- Eat from plates with a wide border or rim so the plate of food still looks big and satisfies your eyes.
- Drink alcohol, fizzy or calorie laden drinks in narrow taller glasses. This makes the glass look bigger.
- A full glass makes the eyes more satisfied with less.
- Buy smaller / antique cutlery so you eat smaller mouthfuls but more of them.
Jean Hailes for Women's Health says
A fascinating set of studies from the US in 2011 investigated not only the distorting effect of plate size but also colour contrast between food and plates and between plates and table:
“reducing the color contrast between the dinnerware and its background may help reduce over- and underserving biases, [and] increasing the color contrast between the food and the dinnerware actually may accomplish this as well”
… so find yourself some small plates that match your table/tablecloth/placemats but contrast with the food you normally eat.
Clarice Hebblethwaite says
Great points Jean. It is so fascinating what influences us, that we have had no idea about.