What Is a Serving Size of Meat?

B. Schreiber

The serving size of meat is a weighted amount of meat for which nutritional content is given. Serving sizes can vary among different products or producers, but a common serving size is between 3 and 4 ounces (about 85 to 114 grams). The weight of a quarter-pound hamburger patty is 4 oz (114 g), or a bit more than the size of a deck of cards. In the United States, the serving size may be based on individual pieces, such as slices of bacon or pieces of sausage. The U.S. government recommends two servings of meat a day for most adults, or about 6 oz (170 g) total.

A serving size of meat is roughly the size of one's palm.
A serving size of meat is roughly the size of one's palm.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a serving size of meat, when cooked, is about a palm-sized amount, and this amount is about the same for beef, poultry, or fish. The USDA also gives the above-mentioned deck of cards or an audio cassette tape as comparisons. A serving size of baked fish has been compared to the size of a checkbook. For chicken, this would be a medium-sized breast or a leg and wing. Cooking methods and the type of meat will affect the nutritional content of a serving, including its calories and fat content.


The USDA issues dietary guidelines for U.S. citizens and promotes public nutrition. The agency considers a serving size of meat to be about 2 to 3 oz (56 to 85 grams). Still, the serving size listed on food packaging in the U.S. may be based on 2-oz (58-g) or 4-oz (144-g) servings of some meats, and possibly less or more.

The USDA recommends lean meats, such as salmon.
The USDA recommends lean meats, such as salmon.

In the United States, the USDA promotes leans meats for meeting daily calorie intake. A 3-oz (85-g) serving of baked salmon contains about 175 calories, 10 g of fat, and about 20% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for cholesterol. The same size serving of hamburger has a similar number of calories but more than twice the saturated fat of fish. While chicken is considered lean meat, a fried 3-oz (85-g) serving of chicken contains more than 300 calories and more than 20% of the RDA for total fat.

A serving of fish should be about the size of a checkbook.
A serving of fish should be about the size of a checkbook.

The USDA includes other protein sources, such as eggs, nuts, and seeds, in the same group as meat. Other sources include peanut butter and soy-based products like soy burgers or tofu. In its recommendations, the USDA considers a serving of these foods to be equal to 1 oz (28 g) of meat. Examples of this size serving include a handful of nuts, 2 tablespoons (32 g) of peanut butter, or one egg.

Various types of meat.
Various types of meat.

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Discussion Comments


@Mor - That's not enough for some people though. And I think when people are learning to eat well, it helps to know portion sizes and how many calories are in everything, because they are often surprised how many calories are in things they took for granted.

Heck, even fruit can have quite a few calories if you eat too much of it. Meat can have quite a few as well, particularly when it is eaten in bulk.

I know when I started a diet and thought I would be clever and fill up on steak rather than on biscuits, I was dismayed to find out that I was actually still eating about the same amount of calories, even with lean meat.

Of course, the steak keeps you full for longer, so it has other benefits in the long run.


@umbra21 - You have to make sure you take everything into account when you are judging by scales though. A piece of steak with a lot of fat on it is going to have more calories than a lean piece which weighs the same amount.

Likewise, a chicken leg which has been fried is going to have more calories than the same chicken leg which has been baked.

But, I don't really think people should count calories too exactly anyway, as it takes away from the enjoyment of the food.

Figure out roughly how much everything is and leave it at that. If you are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean meats and getting lots of exercise you are going to be healthy.


You really need to pay attention to the packaging when working out your serving sizes of food. Often they will list a serving with the calories and the serving size is actually much smaller than you might expect.

For example, even though a standard serving of white fish might be around the size of a checkbook as it says in the article, I've seen salmon packages which list a serving size as only a 50 grams which is much smaller than that. Salmon can be quite high in calories and listing a small serving size can make it look as though it is less fatty than it really is (bear in mind that salmon is very good for you, none the less, it does contain quite a few calories).

Judging by eye can also be difficult, which is why I think it's always better to just use a kitchen scale to figure out your calories.

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