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Faces of Food Waste E04: Size of Portion and its Influence on Food Waste

How Size of Portions varies and how it plays a part in Food Waste

Is bigger always better? Is having bigger plates better? Will filling our glasses until the tip be more satisfying?

Some of us think that we have no role in helping out against food waste, and how the issue of food waste is inevitable. But we don’t consider how each person has an influence on food waste though the meals we eat every day through a simple measurement or a simple scoop. Food waste is created by so many factors, starting from the production process, distribution until consumption. We often don’t think about the factors that are right under our noses.

One of these main factors that we can turn a blind eye unknowingly is the size of portions we put in our breakfast, lunches, dinners and all the snacks in between. We don’t consider how big the apple we choose to snack on, or how many extra sprouts we add on our plates.

Here are three ways how we mismeasure our food portions and how the size of portions influences food waste, because the relation between portion size and the amount of food we eat and waste isn’t as simple as it might at first appear.

Photo Credit: Edgar Castrejon
Photo Credit: Edgar Castrejon

Size of the plate

We tend to like our plates to be fairly full. So, the bigger the plate, the more the food that is piled on top.

A Danish survey shows that if the size of the plate is reduced by just 9%, the food waste can be reduced by over 25%. However, plates are getting bigger in size. They have expanded from 25cm to 28cm. Yes, that number doesn't seem big and seems like a simple design aesthetic, but in reality, it makes all the difference.

Using the bigger plate makes the normal and portions we’re used to adding appear smaller! We prefer seeing the plate full, so we pile more food to cover the empty space on it, and the food is often not fully eaten. The rest finds its way to the bin.

Even in drinks, we use huge glasses and fill them to the tip and end up throwing away half. In the case of drinks, whilst it’s true that fast-food drink sizes have ballooned from 207ml in the 1950s to 1.19L today, it's not happening just in restaurants but in our homes as well. We like to fill our cupboard with tall beautiful glasses and use them for half drunk juice.

Using a tray

Let’s head on to cafeterias. we stand in line, pick up a tray, and add our plates on it. We see that your plate leaves you still more space on your tray to add a side dish as well as a few extra fruits and drinks. The use of tray makes it easier carry all of them to the table.

What happins after? We eat your main dish, sip on the drink, snack on the side dish but we are already full, so we end up carrying the tray back with still food on top to the bin.

Having trays when we don’t actually need them, makes us unconsciously add more portions and more food than we actually need, so we end up leaving them half eaten or not at all.


Whether you’re having family or friends over and want to impress them with your cooking skills, or if you’re cooking for yourself on a night in, there’s often an issue of having more food than necessary or needed. You wind up with a lot more food than you previously planned.

Most people, more specifically adults, eat around 750 grams (1.65 pounds) of food per meal, including bread. When we cook at home, we tend to make much more food than people can actually eat because we fear not having enough food for the family or guests. So, regardless of how hungry you are or how many people are joining for dinner, the more food that’s served, the more you eat, or you think you will.

Portions in restaurants and households are constantly getting bigger. It’s a trend that keeps on growing. However, can we really eat all that amount of food? Should we? The excess ends up thrown in landfills, or worse still, we are turning our bodies into garbage bins.

Fortunately, the "less is more" trend is gaining steam in the food world. Let’s all join in.



Do Increased Portion Sizes Affect How Much We Eat? Research to Practice Series, No. 2 , May 2006. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity

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