Monday, August 20, 2012


Or, What exactly is a serving anyway?

So, when I started out thinking about today's post, it was going to be about juice.  When I was young, we had juice with a meal.  Not everyday meals, honestly.  But Sunday supper, or restaurant meals, or when we had company, we served a small glass of tomato juice.  In the restaurant, a meal order always included the question, "orange, apple, or tomato juice?" along with the usual questions of "soup or salad, baked or fries".

I've wondered, on several occasions, when that tradition stopped.  I mean, it was gradual in the family, with death and siblings growing up and moving out to start families of their own.  But I can't really say when it stopped happening at restaurants - fancy dinners out weren't that frequent, and stopped for the same reasons as the big family dinners ended.  Fast food restaurants seemed to become the "norm" for dining out.  But even today, I don't even see juice listed on the menu, unless it is as a breakfast choice.  And then, it is nearly always limited to orange juice.

Anyway, that got me thinking about the Canada food guide.  And how a glass of juice with a meal is probably a good way to increase the fruit and vegetable intake.  And how, since I'm working toward eating more real food, that it might be something I could reinstate as a regular part of at least some suppers, even though there are only two of us.  I was thinking about how tomato juice now comes in "single serving" cans, as well as the big ones.  So it is possible to have it occasionally, without worrying about the remainder going bad in the fridge.

And thinking about the food guide, and servings, reminded me of how much I think the word "serving" is horribly ambiguous.  For example:  when I make myself oatmeal, the package has directions to make different quantities.  It usually has one that indicates, "4 servings".  Reading the fine print, it turns out that a "serving" is one half cup.  Now, to me, a "serving" is a bowl full.  A cereal bowl, not a fruit nappy.  So I make the four serving size, and pour it all into one bowl, add a little brown sugar and some milk, and eat the entire bowl myself.

A "serving", to me, is the amount you are served.  So, if I were to have chicken for supper, to me, a serving is 2 thighs, 2 spoonfuls of potatoes, and 1 heaping spoonful of vegetable.  The "spoon" in question being one of those nice big serving spoons.  If I have seconds, let's say another thigh and another spoonful of vegetables (especially if it is corn or peas) then that, to me is a second serving.

Many years ago, when it first came out (not sure if it is still around, though) I bought some Shake 'N Bake for Potatoes.  After using two boxes/4 packets for one meal, based on the instructions for the appropriate number of medium potatoes that one packet would coat, I phoned the 800 number on the box.  After some discussion, it turned out that what they consider a "medium" potato is what I would call a very small potato.

I've searched out various resources, attempting to get an idea of what a "serving" is according to the food guide.  Because I've always worried if I really eat enough of the various things according to the guide.  So far, about the only useful thing I've come across is reference to servings of "grain" in terms of number of slices of bread.  I'm not a fan of bread, though, so would love to get my grains in other ways.  (such as oatmeal - LOVE oatmeal - )  But without a useful gauge, I have no idea what a "serving" of a lot of foods is, by their definition.

To clarify my spoonfuls of things like potatoes and vegetables, I guess if I went with the "half cup" idea, well, I would say I have two servings of most vegetables, and three of potatoes.  But what of the meat?  I've read the suggestion that a serving is the size of your fist.  Well, my fist is smaller than my husband's fist, for one thing.  So who's fist do I use?  And, a chicken thigh is about the size of my fist, but includes the inedible bones.  So, does that make it less than a serving?  What about sliced meat, like from the chicken breast?  (I don't like white meat, but I'm staying with the overall example).  If I only have two slices, should I ball them up first to see how big it becomes?  This is an example of the ambiguity and uselessness of some of the so-called "servings" of food.

I wish I could find my old version of the Canada Food Guide.  The one they gave us back in school, in Home Ec class.  That old style one had more meaningful descriptions on it.  And broke up the food groups into Meat and Fish, Dairy, Cereals, Vegetables, and  Fruit.  Now, the fruit and vegetables are lumped together.  And eggs have been moved to the meat category out of dairy, as has nuts (used to be with grains).  

So, the end result is, I don't know if I'm eating the recommended amount of food.  And I honestly don't know if I should worry about it.  I mean, I keep getting a clean bill of health from my doctor.  And I don't seem to be hungry or anything... So I must be getting enough food.  And I'm not really overweight.  Well, maybe ten pounds or so, for my size age and body type.  But nothing the docs seem to be concerned about.

I have noticed that my body will sometimes tell me if I need something - I sometimes get cravings for certain foods, that usually happen during certain upsets to my routine.  If I've been avoiding potatoes or other starchy foods for more than a few days, I'll suddenly feel like eating toast or having a slice of bread with supper - something I rarely ever do, since I'm not fond of bread.

So, again, maybe I don't need to think so hard about the food guide, or serving sizes of what I eat.  I just wonder if I'm getting enough of the fruits and vegetables... which might be why tomato juice is on my mind.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Anne,

    Another post that isn't boring at all! I would go easy on the juice, as it is mostly sugar and leaves out most of the nutrient value. Why drink tomato juice from a can when you can have the whole tomato?

    I agree that serving sizes are hopelessly ambiguous. Why not go by weight? But the government food guides are useless anyway. Make sure you get plenty of fat, protein and vegetables and don't worry about it.

    I'm not a doctor or nutritionist and don't play those roles on the Internet ... this is my opinion!