What Is a Serving Size of Meat?

Meat adds a valuable protein kick to meals, but determining the proper serving isn't a straightforward proposition. Let both common sense and the official recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture be your guides.

Protein Guidelines

USDA guidelines recommend different amounts of protein for men and women at different ages and activity levels. For example, women who are 31 to 50 years old and get up to 30 minutes of exercise per day need 5 ounces of protein daily. Different protein-rich foods contribute to the total for all the meals in one day:

  • 1 5-ounce steak and no other protein
  • 1 4-ounce steak and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 2 eggs, 1 ounce of ham and 1/4 cup of refried beans
  • 1 small, 3-ounce hamburger and 1 cup of lentil soup

Picturing the Serving Size

The USDA "My Plate" campaign offers different ways to envision a serving of meat:

  • Picture slightly less than one-quarter of your dinner plate as the meat serving.
  • Limit your meat serving to 3 ounces, or the approximate size of a deck of cards and the palm of your hand. This serving size allows you to get 2 more ounces of other protein, such as eggs, nuts or beans.

Portion Calculations

You have choices when it comes to determining meat portion sizes for each meal.

Calculations for All Meats

  • Weigh ounces of meat. For example, avoid meat at breakfast, read the ounces and serving sizes of the deli meat in your lunchtime ham sandwich, and cut your evening steak into specific portion sizes of your choosing.
  • Use visual clues to determine serving sizes, at buffets and in other peoples' homes. For example, a 3-ounce portion of ground beef is the size of a golf ball.
  • Eat meat only for dinner. Mark Bittman, food writer for The New York Times, doesn't worry about calculating ounces. His "VB6" plan means that he eats a vegan diet before 6 p.m. every day and only has a single serving of meat in the evening.
  • Think of meat as a condiment. Use small strips of beef in soups and salads, and crumble ground sausage into omelets.

Calculations for Roasts

  • Oven roasts -- about 3 to 4 servings per pound.
  • Pot Roast -- 2 to 3 servings per pound.
  • Pork shoulder or butt roast -- approximately 3 servings per pound