Clean Eating 101: Portion Control, Counting Calories And Eating Frequently

Today we will address Clean Eating 101: Portion Control, Counting Calories, Eating Frequently.

I get many emails from those of you just getting started with clean eating. And despite your various locations, backgrounds and health conditions, you are all wondering the same 3 questions:

  • What constitutes one portion of something?
  • How many calories should I be eating every day?
  • How do I learn to eat 6 meals a day? I can barely handle 3!

When you first start out, clean eating can feel really overwhelming. It seems like there are a lot of rules and a ton of information to learn and figure out. But really, it’s pretty basic. Eat healthy and eat often.

So let’s tackle these questions, shall we?

Clean Eating 101: Portion Control, Counting Calories, Eating Frequently


I know there are a bazillion different methods for figuring out what 1 serving of something is. People talk about the size of a tennis ball or a deck of cards. But I find that when I’m hungry, I tend to imagine that tennis ball a little bigger than it actually is. Especially if I don’t have one in front of me. So I follow a very simple rule of thumb on this one. NOTE: This is meant to be for visual estimations only. Do NOT put hot food in your hand to measure it!!

1 serving equals the size of my palm.
(Cupped for fruits & grains, flat for meats, two cupped hands for veggies)
Clean Eating

Simple right? And you always have your hand to measure by, so you never have the excuse that you had to guess. (Darn!)


This will vary from person to person. Each individual has different dietary needs on a day to day basis. There are a ton of calorie calculators on the web. I even have one here if you need one. You can also join me over at But clean eating in general does not advocate counting calories. It’s more of an “eat until you are just satisfied” type of thing. (Remember you palm!)

But if you really must count calories, use a calculator to figure out the number for one day and then divide that by 5 or 6 (meals). It will give you a good idea of what to shoot for at each meal.


There is a very simple method for doing this. Make your “normal” 3 meals per day, cut them in half, and space them out about every 2-3 hours. This way, you get your metabolism revved by eating, but don’t actually take in more food than you should be eating. Once you get used to it, you can start branching out with different foods at each meal.


I hope this helps you all a little with getting started. Remember, it may feel overwhelming at first. But if you just jump in and try (and don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes), you’ll be a pro in no time! Just accept the fact that you won’t get it perfect right out of the gates. Do the best you can, improve your knowledge and technique every day, and before you know it you won’t know any other way to eat!

Article is an original work and is © Tiffany McCauley. It may not be reproduced for any reason without written permission by the author.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Cathryn – Wonderful! I’m so happy you’re finding my blog useful! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Kopns – Wow! What a great thing! What I wouldn’t give to weight less when I eat more! LOL!

  3. christina says:

    i have such an awful time with the 6 meals a day
    between work and school, it doesn’t seem like i have time to eat 5-6 meals
    i get up, eat breakfast, go to school or work, have a lunch break, come home and eat dinner. i don’t know how to divide that into my current schedule.
    it leaves me absolutely overwhelmed 🙁

    1. Anonymous says:

      Christina – Keep it simple! Pack your food in a lunch box the night before and keep the snack small and easy. Low fat cheese sticks, and apple, a bag of almonds, hard boiled eggs…. it doesn’t have to be a huge meal. Just something to keep that metabolism revved!

  4. graciouspantry says:

    Trace – You’re right! It’s a very important topic. I struggle with portion control daily. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But it’s crucial for a healthy weight. We eat far too much in this country and the worst part is, most people feel entitled to these large portions. If you were to offer them smaller portions they would feel insulted. It’s crazy.

  5. graciouspantry says:

    Sidney – Yes, I’m on MFP but haven’t used it in a very long time. My handle is thegraciouspantry

  6. graciouspantry says:

    Wow! That’s so wonderful! I used to work in a hospital, and I saw those people too. It’s tough to watch and most of the time, they don’t even realize how miserable they are simply because it’s all they know. Thanks for trying the book! Sounds like you’re doing a great job!

  7. Hi I’m just starting out on clean eating and I’d like to know how do u figure portions out when it comes to combining food groups. Like for instance: lasagna it has a carb., a protein and vegs.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ashley – The main objective is to keep your portions small (if you eat 5-6 meals per day) and be sure that what you have on your plate is balanced. The lasagna you mention sounds like it has a little of everything. So as long as it’s clean, a small serving would be a great meal.

  8. Thank you so much. I’m alittle overwhelmed right now hehe

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Ashley – Just take it one step at a time. You’ll get there.

  9. rashonda thompkins says:

    I’m new to this “clean eating” how can I get started, as well as balancing normal meals for my children, they DONT need to diet:-)

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Rashonda – If your meals are healthy and balanced, there is no reason to feel that your kids are on a diet. Fruits, veggies, lean meats and whole grains are all perfectly healthy for any growing body. Let them eat as much as they want. For an adult, it’s the same balance, just smaller meals if you eat 6 times per day.

  10. Sorry, I don’t get it. If you’re using portion sizes, i.e., the palm of your hand for servings of macros AND you’re counting your calories, what if they don’t add up to be the same amounts?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Rayca – The palm method is just a rough estimate if you have to guess. It’s not exact. For example, if you are at a friend’s barbecue and you want to watch your portion sizes. Then it’s a good way to measure. If you are counting calories, then go with specific amounts to reach your specific number of calories.

  11. I am so glad i stumbled upon your website/blog. I am a para athlete, smoker, and unhealthy eater. Feels like I’mm in a meeting. My official quit date for smoking is 8/23 and i need to shed some weight as well. My wife stays home with our daughter and is expecting again in October. We struggle with time management which causes us to make some bad food choices. Anyhow, we were lost with the whole “clean eating” bit but after going through your website and finding the information and recipes I think we are gonna do just fine. HUGE THANK YOU! Be well.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jeff – It’s my pleasure! Just remember to take it one meal at a time. Always ask yourself how you can improve whatever meal you are preparing. And don’t beat yourself up for mistakes. Learn from them instead and use them to improve. I’ve been doing this for 5 years and I still make mistakes. It’s what you do the majority of the time that counts. 🙂

  12. I have always wondered concerning clean eating as to portion size, eating too much of a good thing is not good.
    Now not to be negative, but the measuring buy you hand can not get past my mind.
    It is fine with uncooked foods, but once foods are cooked they are hot and I cannot see measuring a piece of hot chicken in my hand. how about hot potatoes. So how do you do that. We all know that food shrinks as it cooks, How do you measure hot food by your hand.
    Imagine putting hot food in your hand to make sure it is the right portion.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Evelyn – It’s not meant to be literal. It’s meant to be a visual. An approximation of how much a particular portion is. Please don’t put hot food in your hands! It’s the approximate size of your palm. But that doesn’t mean you should put hot food actually on your palm.