How big is too big? Double entendre’s aside, portion control was something I didn’t think about that much until I moved to the USA almost 20 years ago. No sooner had I arrived than I realized I was in the land of the 20oz steak, supersized fries and drinks so large members of the British Royal Family could take a well-earned boating holiday on their surfaces. That was two decades ago and even though we are now bombarded with information about what we should and shouldn’t consume it seems we are still subjected to never ending pasta bowls, unlimited refills of soda and portions of food larger than you shake a stick at.
This blog is mostly concerned with dessert and pastries but just for a moment let me touch upon the savory side of the kitchen. An entrée protein portion considered acceptable should be about the size of a deck of cards. USDA recommends this and says your protein portion should weigh in at 3oz. When was the last time you saw a 3oz steak on a menu? You’ll be lucky to find one at 6oz. Add to that the mountain of potatoes and insignificant speck of vegetables; don’t forget the appetizer which was clearly designed for a family of four and it’s not surprising many diners skip dessert. That’s sad as dessert is part of the meal. A small part of the meal this is true, but a part of the meal none the less. 20 years ago dessert portions were large; 4-5oz was not uncommon. Many Pastry Chefs have moved on from those monstrous servings and reduced the portion size of desserts accordingly to around 2-3oz. While decreasing the size of the dessert they have increased the size/amount of the garnish (at UMass, usually fruit). This type of approach known as the “Pastry Flip” has gained traction in some circles but it’s not something you are likely to see much of in your nearest chain restaurant. At such chains size is important, leaving dessert feeling like an over indulgence. Many skip it, having filled up on appetizers and entrees. However, skipping the final course leaves the meal incomplete but let’s face it, when you are faced with a slice of chocolate cake large enough to prop open a fire door it’s not surprising guests forgo dessert.
Perhaps we as diners should be requesting smaller portions in order to have a complete meal. It’s a tough sell to be sure though. In an environment where value for money is a driving force, that’s hard to argue with and anyway isn’t America all about “bigger is better”. Maybe so, but try telling that to your swollen arteries. Are they better, bigger?
Let’s face it; many of the restaurants we frequent are not going to alter their portion size just to suit you, so try this. If you’d like to eat a complete meal when dining out without feeling you’re going to overdo it try asking for a “to go” container when placing your order. When the meal arrives, halve the portion immediately and place that half in the container. That way you can still enjoy your appetizer, entrée and dessert and you have leftovers for the next day. Dessert is a part of the meal we should all be able to enjoy without feeling overstuffed or guilt-ridden, or both. So go ahead; have your cake and eat it. After all, what are you supposed to do with cake?