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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Portion Size

Frugal Kitchens 101

North Americans have huge portion sizes compared to their European counterparts or even the rest of the world.  What a lot of people don't realize is the North American portion sizes served in restaurants and at home are well above the serving sizes recommended by Health Canada or the USDA.  These large food portions cost not only in terms of food dollars but also in health costs.  The reality is larger food portions are not better!  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 addresses the issue of food portion sizes.

North America is certainly the land of gluttony.  We live in the land of plenty and barring any finacial problems most of us eat well more than we should.  When I look as some of the food portions I serve with respect to what Health Canada recommends, clearly our meat portions are very much larger than they should be but before I go into that detail let's look at a commercial example.  Campbell's condensed tomato soup is 284 ml.   Each serving size is 125 ml condensed or just a little over 2 servings and yet many would have no problem eating the entire can.  Aside of leafy vegetables the recommended serving size is 4 oz.  Now back to meats, the recommended serving size for meats is 4 oz or the size of a deck of cards so that 20 oz steak my husband enjoys should be feeding five not one!  The problem is in North America we are used to large and extra large portion sizes so how can we reduce portion size (aka saving on the food budget) without feeling deprived?  Meat tends to be the most expensive part of any meal so some of my tips focus on reducing meat portions.  Here's a few of my tips in no particular order:

  • take small steps - If you or a family member is used to 20 oz steaks then trust me all of a sudden giving them a 4 oz steak is not going to cut it by any stretch of the imagination.  What you can do is go with the same size steak only thinner shaving off a couple of ounces but visually it looks the same or you can go with a slightly smaller steak then continue reducing slightly until your or the family member gets used to the smaller sized portion.  You may never get a steak serving to 4 oz but each time you reduce it by even an ounce you are saving money.  If a recipe calls for 2 cups of ground beef reduce it to 1½ c.  You will get all the flavour, the ½ c won't be missed and you will save slightly on the cost of the meat.
  • drink water - Drink at least 8 oz of water before each meal.  This will naturally reduce your appetite which in turn will naturally reduce the desired portion size. 
  • always serve soup or salad and bread - When you are trying to reduce portion size always serve some type of soup or salad and bread.  Both fill you up so you won't notice smaller portion sizes and both are a lot cheaper than meat.
  • go meatless and make it fun - Going meatless can be a lot of fun while saving money.  Make it a game that involves all family members to come up with a meatless dinner. 
  • know serving sizes - Reduce side dishes to the recommended serving sizes of ½ c to 1 c depending on the side.  A serving of fruit or vegetable is 4 oz with the exception of leafy greens being 1 c.  Gradually reduce meat servings to closer to the recommended 4 oz (size of a deck of cards).  A little reduction goes a long way when it comes to food dollar savings.  Use measuring cups or a kitchen scale if necessary.
  • servingware - Use dipping cups (2 oz) for salad dressings and dips.  Use custard cups (4 oz or 6 oz) for foods like puddings, cottage cheese and applesauce.  Use 8 oz drinking glasses rather than 10 oz and use 4 oz glasses for fruit juices.  Use an ice cream scoop for mashed potatoes for a pretty but reduce portion size presentation.
  • reduce the plate size - We eat with our eyes first so if serving sizes are reduced to those recommended it may look as if the plate is half empty.  The trick here is to use a smaller plate.  A smaller plate with the recommended serving sizes looks full so it tricks the brain into thinking you are getting the same amount even though you end up eating less. 
  • cook in stocks - Cook vegetables, rices, pastas and beans in low cost meat stocks for full flavour without actually using meat.
  • read those labels - Mandatory nutritional labels on food products include the serving size.  For example one brand of potato chips specifies a serving size at 15 chips or 50 g. 
  • effectively manage left-overs - I routinely cook extra with planned meals from the left-overs in mind.  This method would not be feasible if the planned left-overs were eaten before they could be used for the next meal.  I tend to separate the planned left-overs from the main meal immediately before the meal is served.  That removes the temptation of the planned left-overs being eaten at that meal rather than being used for their intended purpose.  Freeze left-overs in individual serving sizes using muffin tins or create homemade, portion controled tv dinners.
  • borrow from the restaurants - Restaurants usually garnish just about every dish.  The reason for this is when properly executed, garnish adds not only interest giving a hint of the flavours in the dish but also makes the plate appear fuller than it is.  For example, if you notice how sandwiches are presented in a restaurant, they are usually cut on a diagonal with one half propped up on the other to show off the filling then the plate is finished off with a couple of pickle spears (¼ pieces of dill pickle) and fairly close to the recommended serving size for potato chips.  Essentially what they do is cut costs by keeping the potato chips to a portion size, reduce the pickle serving from one whole pickle to a half pickle and show off the sandwich.  The customer is happy and yet the restaurant saves a little on each sandwich served.  The same thing goes for desserts where the portion might be right in line but it would small if served plain so they drizzle a little sauce on the plate, centre the dessert and add a garnish of perhaps a couple of fresh berries or a mint leaf.  It makes for a pretty presentation but the restaurant saves money by keeping the portions controlled.

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