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July 5, 2007 / Tony

Resturant-sized portions

I ran across this article at MSNBC.  Apparently, many restuarant chains are serving portion sizes that are 2 to 4 times as large as they need (should?) be even though 75% of the chefs interveiwed thought they were serving correctly portioned food.  And this leads to this problem:

Since the chef isn’t counting calories, it’s up to you. But even when you try to watch how much you eat, many people can have a hard time knowing when it’s time to stop

At Penn State, we have also extensively tested the effects of large portions on how much people consume. Bigger portions of macaroni and cheese, submarine sandwiches and potato chips all lead to greater intake — as much as 50 percent more.

When we went into a campus restaurant and upped the size of a popular pasta dish, customers ate almost 200 extra calories. Yet they believed that each serving was the right size. Whether the consumers were men, women, lean, overweight, habitual plate cleaners or not, they succumbed to the influence of large portions.

You might say that eating more at a meal is not a big deal — you will just eat less at the next meal. Don’t count on that.

In another study, we provided 10 women and 13 men with all of their foods and beverages for 11 days in a row on two occasions. On one occasion we served standard sizes. The other time, the same foods were offered, but the servings were 50 percent bigger.

With the larger portions, the men and women ate more than 400 extra calories each of the 11 days, adding up to an average of 4,636 extra calories. Remember, it takes 3,500 extra calories to gain a pound.

The evidence is clear — bigger servings tend to lead to overeating unless you learn some strategies for staying in control.

This led me to think about the serving sizes I serve to my guests at home.  I, having worked at three casual American chain restuarants (Grand Lux Cafe, Granite City Food and Brewery, and Doolittle’s Air Cafe), think I’ve caught (at least) two traits from them: I like to attractively plate food (I really don’t do family style serving) and I put a lot of food on the plate.  Now, I want to be very clear that I am rather skeptical of basing weight gain and loss solely on caloric intake and exercise.  In other words, I don’t think a person’s weight is a zero-sum game.  (Read this excellent set of articles by Sandy Szwarc here.)  So I’m not worried I’m making my dinner guests fat.  I am, however, worried about changing their perceptions about the food I am presenting to them.  According to the article, as the person “plating” the food, to use restaurant parlance, I have quite a bit of sway as to how much they are going to eat.  Especially if I put more food on the plate than a person wants or thinks they want to eat.  My concern, then, is whether or not I am unwittingly causing people to eat more than they want to and hence feel a little uncomfortable around my dinner table.  I certainly hope not. 

One more thought about this article.  Since starting this blog, I’ve found it fascinating as to the psychological effects that food and all that surrounds it have on a person.  (See this post.)  I never realized the power a chef has over his guests.  Apart from how the food tastes, I can control how much you eat, how much you like it, and whether or not you think it is quality food.  All those little persnickety details matter. 

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One Comment

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  1. Mom / Jul 5 2007 7:48 pm

    Dad and I ‘solved’ the problem of the larger portions by ordering an entree and having them divide in half. Works perfect……EXCEPT in those instances when our ‘minds’ say we are SO hungry that a half portion will never satisfy. Then we get ‘stuffed’!! Feel miserable.
    I have also come to believe in my LONG LONG lifetime of dieting that some of us do not have a ‘full button’ in our brain to tell us we are done. Like….” S T O P !! You don’t need anymore!” It’s like all the aisles of Hornbachers wouldn’t fill us, we’d still be looking for that ‘last’ bite that would satisfy. Tony, for you, food is more than planning, purchasing, preparing and consuming. More like an ‘artistic’ endeavor but it also means gourmet because cooking definitely includes your palate!

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