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.
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:
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
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?
- Mark Bittman: Mark Bittman Says You Can Be a Part-Time Vegan
- Recipetips.com: How Much to Buy
- The Kitchn: Dinner Party Planning: How Much Meat Per Person?
- Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association: Getting More Protein at Every Meal
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.