Hand Portioning 101: Building a Healthy Meal | H4 Training

Apr12Hand Portioning 101: Building a Healthy Meal

Almost everyone knows how to eat healthier – eat more veggies, eat less donuts – but not many know how much to eat of each food type.

By food type, I mean food groups. Depending on the model you’re using, there could be tons of different food groups from grains, dairy, fats, meat, etc. For simplicity though, we are going to talk about 4 food groups: protein, veggies, carbs, and fats. We are going to use this model to go over how to build a nutritious plate that will help you along your health & fitness goals.

Step 1: Use Your Hand For Measuring

The first step is understanding how to portion out your food. Traditional ways of tracking food intake and serving size is using a scale to weight food. This might be good for some, but can be tedious over time.

Instead, we can use a simpler model: using your hand. Why does this work? Well, hands are usually proportionate to body size. A larger person will have a larger hand, and a smaller person will have a smaller hand. A large person will also need larger portions of food, and a smaller person vice versa. So using your hand to measure your food will usually be fairly accurate.

How to you use your hand exactly though? We will be using certain parts of the hand for certain portions of food to build your ideal plate. The amounts that stay constant will be protein and veggie sources, but the ones that we can change are carb and fat servings.

We can change these depending on whether the goal is to lose or gain weight. For example, the guidelines for servings are as follows:

Men: usually 2 servings of protein, veggies, carbs, and fats.

Women: usually 1 serving of protein, veggies, carbs, and fats.

From here, if weight loss is a goal, you can slightly decrease the servings size (start with half a serving) of a carb source or fat source per meal. If the goal is to gain weight, add a serving. The amount of servings isn’t set in stone though, as each individual is different. A female athlete might need more food than a sedentary male, so take into account your individual needs. It won’t hurt though to start out with the general numbers above, and adjust as time passes.

Below is the detailed explanation of each food group and how to portion it out for your meals.

Step 2: Choose a Protein Source

One of the most important food groups is protein. Protein will help build muscle, keep you fuller longer, and is beneficial in aiding weight loss. For portioning, use your open hand for this.

The amount of protein you will need will be roughly the size of your palm. Depending on hand size, this will probably be around 4-6 oz. Simply place your open hand next to your protein of choice (keep it a lean protein source) and eyeball it to make sure its similar in size.

  • for men: 2 servings
  • for women: 1-2 servings

Take a look at the photo below for a quick primer and ideas for protein sources.


Step 3: Pick a Veggie Source

Veggies are the most important part of the meal! Most of us are guilty in that we don’t get enough veggies in.

For this one, use your closed fist for a serving size. For men, aim for 2 servings per meal. Women should aim for 1-2 servings. There are tons of options, try to vary the veggie you pick from meal to meal, that way you diversify the nutrients you eat.


Step 4: Pick a Carb Source

Next up is carbs. Now, some might consider veggies a carb source, but we separate them because vegetables tend to be lower in carbohydrates, and and full of other vitamins and minerals. So veggies should be considered their own tier.

Carbs that you should eat in this sense would be “smart” carbs, like:

  • sweet potato
  • whole grain pasta, el dente
  • wild rice/brown rice
  • beans/lentils
  • quinoa
  • steel cut & old fashioned oats
  • fresh or frozen fruit

And the list goes on. The idea is to pick a carb source that is slow-digesting. For carbs, use a cupped hand as a guide for portioning.


Step 5: Pick a Fat Source

Fat is often still vilified as being ‘bad’, but fat is a crucial nutrient. We need fat for proper brain, organ, and hormone function.

People tend to think fat is bad because of the word alone, but fat doesn’t make you gain fat. Excess calories is was makes you gain body fat. Fat is more calorically expensive though, as per gram it contains more calories than carbs or protein. When adding this nutrient to your meal, aim for a modest amount; use your thumb as a measuring tool, and aim for 1-2 servings depending on goals.


Putting It All Together

Now that you know how to pick the right serving size for you, you can combine all parts into a plate! Just by using the simple guidelines above, you can build your meals to suit your needs and goals. Remember, the amount of food is different depending on activity level, height, and weight, but if you start with the general guidelines you can adjust from there.