Day 19: A Chef’s View On Portion Sizes

Guest Expert: Georgina ImpsonDavey, Performance Nutritionist at EIS, British Gymnastics and British Cycling

As a chef, you want people satisfied at the end of their meal. You don’t want them so full that they’re sluggish and waddling out of the door, but at the same time you don’t want them lightly walking to the nearest fried chicken place either.

It’s a delicate balance and to be honest, one that restaurateurs I don’t think will ever win for this very simple reason.

Everyone is unique.

It’s my view that everyone has their own individual nutritional needs so when cooking in restaurants or cafe’s for example, you’ll always have to go with your best portions based on various factors.

At home though it’s a different story because it’s you cooking for you. And who knows you better than you 😉

I debated whether to include this post in my cookery challenge because I’m not a qualified nutritionist or dietician. But, you asked, and I’ve listened! So…

I’m combining my professional knowledge, the knowledge I’m learning on my new Leiths Nutritional Chef course and most importantly bringing in Performance Nutritionist to some of Great Britain’s top athletes, Georgina ImpsonDavey to give her view on what we should be aiming for each day. If anyone knows, this woman does!

Note: This guide is intended for every day cooking. I must strongly say that if you have specific medical requirements then see a Dr! This is a back to basics challenge so we’ll be covering just that, the basics.

Portioning At Home Is A Brilliant Skill To Have

When cooking at home, it’s a good idea to get our portion sizes right for these very important reasons:

  • You’ll save money buying only what you need and reducing food waste
  • You’ll reduce food waste further because you won’t be throwing excess away
  • If you’re like me and workout, knowing how much food you need on different days will enable you to achieve your own personal fitness and nutrition goals
  • You’ll reduce packaging waste because you’ll know you only need, for example, 2 carrots instead of a whole bag

At cookery school you’re taught the basics of portioning. 1 potato plus 1/2 per person or 3 eggs per person, per omelette for example.

You’re then taught the ‘palm method’ which is where you take the palm of your hand and have 1 palm sized portion of protein, 1 of complex carbohydrates and 2 of veggies. Then you go in to calories. The standard 2000 cals for women, 2500 for men. Then macros etc etc.

But I always found myself questioning this because I know for a fact that if I ate that much I would gain weight quicker than I would downing a cider at the pie festival.

So here’s where we start.

Focus On You

Begin by remembering this from Georgina.

7+ portions of fruit and veg a day (1 portion = 1 – 2 whole fruit or veg / 1 handful of berries or beans).

Protein at every meal / snack and use good proteins such as oily fish, nuts and seeds for healthy fats.

Tailor carbohydrates to the amount of activity each day; the more energy you use, the more you need to eat!

Then from personal experience, experiment! While the palm method doesn’t work for me now after years of fine tuning my personal portion sizes, it’s a great tool for beginners.

You’ll know when you have your portion sizes right when you can maintain your weight for two weeks.

Marketing calls it ‘intuitive eating’, I call it common sense. What’s helped for me is:

  • Knowing about food and it’s nutritional profile including roughly what vitamins, minerals etc it’s packing
  • Knowing (with a pinch of salt) calories and my own intake
  • Eating a variety of whole foods and not processed ones
  • Knowing flavour combinations
  • Using a nutrition app to ensure I’m getting everything I need in a balanced way

Traps To Avoid

There’s certain traps you need to avoid when learning what portions suit you.

  • Don’t base your portions on restaurant sizes. The average restaurant (excluding fine dining and peeps you know I love you, but your portions are tiny and I always have to get a burger afterwards) are on average 2 or 3 times bigger than what we should be eating.
  • Never think all foods are made the same. Each food items has it’s own unique gifts and talents.
  • Superfoods is the worst thing to come out of a marketing meeting room ever. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t just eat goji berries and kale all day.
  • Green juices and smoothies aren’t proper meals from a chef’s point of view and most of the time they don’t even taste great. More on that in a couple of day’s time 😉

Variety Is Key. Food Combos Are The Dream.

I don’t have any friends now who eat beige all day because I’ve literally gone round their house and sorted out their cupboards, fridges and meal plans.

Some call it breaking and entering. I call it love.

Variety is the spice of life. Every day you want to be eating as many colours as possible, and having a party with textures as well.

Following on from Georgina’s recommendations, let’s add in the flavour.

  • Fruit & Veg – Think bright red apples, tomatoes and peppers. Greens for spinach, beans. Purple plums and grapes. Blue blueberries. Yellow bananas. Orange squashes. Don’t forget fresh herbs as well for great flavour.
  • Protein – Yes meat, but protein is found in so many other foods such as fish, dairy, lentils, peas, spinach etc.
  • Carbs – ARE BRILLIANT! Rice, quinoa, bread (homemade is even better), grains etc.
  • Good fats – nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil etc

And combine your food to get a double whammy.

As a chef who cooks balanced meals both at home and for clients, the history and science behind combining certain foods is a fascinating topic.

For example if you just have an apple as a snack, that’s great but it won’t fill you up as much as having that same apple but with a little protein for example some cheese.

If You Want More Specifics

If you’re training or want to know more science, Georgina kindly offered these equations as well.

Protein – aim for 2g/kg of body weight at equal time points across the day (normally 20-30g each meal).

Carbohydrates – Aim for larger potions of carbohydrate foods around exercise to help your body fuel and recover.

Feeding A Crowd

This is a complicated topic with a lot of lists! If you want me to write more on this, let me know 😀

In A Wrap…

  • Knowing your own portion sizes will help you personally, help you save money, food waste and plastic packaging.
  • Yes, it’s experimental to begin with, but you’ll nail it quickly and it’ll become second nature.
  • Always get medical advice if there’s a medical reason to do so.

Connect With Georgina

You can find Georgina here on Twitter.

Let’s Connect!

Along with the daily journal posts here, each Wednesday at 12pm BST I’ll be going live on my instagram @therebalancechef to recap on the week’s progress and show you around my kitchen. Depending on the weather you might even meet my rescue hens!

The main point of this challenge is to have fun with it, learn new skills and refresh old ones.

I want to see your creations so don’t forget to tag me and show off what you’ve been doing!

I’m taking part in the Rebalance May Cookery Challenge! Check it out here

This is not the right portion size. This is discovering Sardinia’s bruschetta for the first time portion size hahaha!