Portion control

Talking about restaurant customer service in the previous post got be thinking more about food and my relationship with it.

Just months before we moved to the States nine years ago, I had an appointment with my dentist, during which she learned about our impending trip. She’s been to the States a couple of times. Inclined to give me a piece of advice to prepare me for what to expect, she told me that I should be very careful about not turning into a dambuhala (monster or giant). She meant that the U.S. has an abundance of food that is easily accessible, and it takes discipline not to overeat.


I was 14 at that time, conscious about my appearance, and a little anxious about completely moving to a foreign country permanently. The least I wanted the States to be is a place that will turn me into a monster. So when we finally got to the States, the first thing I thought I would notice was the food. (Actually, it was the roads that caught my attention first more than anything else).

My dentist’s comment stayed with me as I adjusted to this new place. After going to grocery stores and restaurants, I realized what she meant. There is an abundance of food here.

Restaurant portion sizes can feed three people my size. Being 5’2″, which is considered small compared to the average American girl my age, I am aware that serving portions are not targeted people my size. One full plate may be the right amount of food for someone who’s 5’4 to 5’7″, but for me, I am meticulous about only eating half of what I’m served. I can’t eat the same portions alloted for someone who’s bigger and taller than I am. It’s hard to control portions, especially when eating at more upscale restaurants where it is not appropriate to box uneaten plates.

Friends have traveled to Japan and came back slimmer, having shed off a few pounds during their trip. When I went back to Manila in 2007, I ordered a meal at a popular fast-food chain and the serving was so small that I felt I didn’t get what I paid for. After I ate, I noticed that the portion was just enough for me– anything bigger than the size I got would be too much.

For certain cuisines, like Indian food, U.S. restaurant servings for can feed 3 people. Especially for dishes that have multiple components– rice, naan, chutney, lentils, entree dish. I always wonder if they serve the same portions in the cuisine’s place of origin. Perhaps serving sizes can be construed as the American influence on the cuisine (Americanization).

I wonder why restaurants won’t shrink their servings by half and charge less than they would for a big blown serving. I haven’t done due research on perception of portion sizes, but I have a feeling that a lot of people would agree with me about cutting down portion sizes.

Yesterday, I had dinner with two friends and each of them ordered two courses– a full entree and an appetizer each. I ordered a salad, and when they received their first course and I was munching on wheat crackers at the table, they kept asking where my food was. I said, I only ordered a salad, and they had a look of surprise on their faces. My salad finally came, and after working on it for over an hour, I still had 1/2 of my plate boxed in a to-go container.

I dislike the feeling I get after eating too much. They call it food coma, but it is akin to being drunk– you feel lazy, dizzy and your tummy feels uncomfortable. Plus, eating a lot requires me to eat a lot more again in my next meals, to satiate my appetite.

I like eating small portions because I noticed it gives me more energy. I feel cleaner, rid of hunger, and ready for the world.

My mom used to say, a matchbox-size portion of red meat is the perfect serving size for meat. Sometimes I play with the idea of creating a business plan for a restaurant that will serve exactly the right amount of food, with a bigger portion of the plate going to the healthier option (like salad), and the smallest portion going to a type of meat. How can a restaurant that skimps on portions be marketed, when everyone else seems to espouse “bigger is better?”

Since the economic downturn, lots of companies are downsizing, and individuals are also cutting back on spending. It would be interesting to see the transformations that will affect the restaurant industry.

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