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Portion Size Differences Between America and France

BrightonYourHealth is health, food and wellness blog. It is written by Mary Brighton MS, RD a nutritionist who lives in South West France and spends the summers at the Jersey Shore. To subscribe to the monthly newsletter and article updates, click on this button and have a brightonyourhealth day! subscribe to our newsletter

The ice cream says it all.

Differences between France and America-portion size contrasts, the story easily told with an ice cream serving. Read why.

baby ice cream
These are baby scoops. Can you imagine the large?

Baby Ice Cream Scoop

Differences Between America and France: Big Versus Small Portions

We spend summers in New Jersey at the Jersey Shore, enjoying all the food and fun that America has to offer. We appreciate the barbecues and easy eating, grandma’s home cooking and the informal dining at restaurants and take out ice cream places. We sip and savor it all. 

Returning back to the USA each year requires a few weeks adaption and part of the cultural shock between France and America, is the big everything in America. Big roads, big spaces, big televisions, big cars. And the big food. This ‘everything large’ is one of the most contrasting differences on what we are used to in France; amuses us and makes us laugh especially the huge differences in food and drink portion sizes in America. The American portions are supersize big. Like the baby scoop ice cream cones you see in the picture.

We open our eyes really wide each time our extra-small ordered ice cream cone is handed to us; in our French cultural food perception these baby scoops are extra-large French style. Trust me, my kids love it. These ice cream portions, small American= large French are similar to what we experience with drink and food sizes at restaurants.

Each summer in my home country I need a food culture adaption period. As a dietitian I reflect on these super large portions that are available in our American culture. And I don’t like it. Our American culture of everything bigger and better, adds to the obesity epidemic in our country.

Do you think this is true?

How much bigger has the portions increased?

“Food portions in America’s restaurants have doubled or tripled over the last 20 years, a key factor that is contributing to a potentially devastating increase in obesity among children and adults.” Portion Sizes and Obesity

“Since the 1970s, American fast-food and sit-down restaurants alike have contributed to the obesity epidemic by serving individual people enough food for a small family.” Here are statistics taken from article cited below:

  • In the 1950s, a regular fast-food burger was 2.8 ounces and 202 calories. In 2004, that same burger was 4.3 ounces and 310 calories.
  • A regular Coke grew from six ounces in 1916 to 21 ounces in 1996.
  • These days, you can buy a “double gulp” drink that’s 64 ounces and more than 600 calories, and a burrito that’s 1,100 calories or almost three-fourths of the entire daily 1,600-calorie allotment for an average-sized, non-exercising woman. Have them both, and you’re over the allotment.  How Portion Size Ends Up to Obesity

American Portion Sizes are Big Because Every Business Does It This Way

“Gotta love the portion sizes here in America, you really get your money’s worth.”  Are large portion sizes more value? (More on that later).

Part of the reason America serves large portion sizes is because the consumer expects it. Most restaurants and fast food establishments offer larger portions because they have too, to keep up with competition. Our perception of what is a normal size has grown larger because of what we get accustomed to and has developed into this new American food culture of bigger portions.

Why is it that some of the least healthy foods are the foods served in huge portions?

These large sodas, ice creams and desserts, the overstuffed sandwiches, the large plates of french fries and hamburgers.

These large portions are from some of the unhealthiest food and drinks we can consume.  It is no surprise that the children who have grown up with supersize portions are the same ones who suffer the most from early onset diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Large portions might be a good value in the short-term, but we lose in terms of long-term health costs.

Food Culture French in an American Food Culture: How I Keep Portions to A Normal Size

I admit that I have to be food strict with my kids in America. They would beg me to order the large ice cream cones if they knew I would say yes. But I don’t. The baby scoops are just the perfect size. And at restaurants I order one menu for two of my kids to share (the two youngest with tiny appetites). We drink water. We ask for doggie bags. I don’t push my kids to finish their plates if they are full. They have learned to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. This hasn’t been easy, teaching them about taste and encouraging them to listen to their bodies with food. I have had to be ‘bad mommy’ sometimes, the parent that says ‘no’. But in the long run, it has been worth it.

If you want to know more about the French Way of eating, read through some articles on the blog, or you can click below for teaching kids about recognizing their hunger and fullness.

“How To Teach Children About Hunger and Fullness”

Bon Appétit!

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Wishing you a supersize portion of good health,

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10 Responses to Portion Size Differences Between America and France

  1. margaret beale June 29, 2017 at 01:10 #

    I have just returned from a fortnight in New York. By the end of our stay, I’d got wise to portion sizes and ordered starters for mains with starter-sized salads.

    Doggy bags notwithstanding, I hate to think of the food waste caused by the confusion between Good dnd Big. “Portions were huge” is a frequent term of praise on restaurant reviews.. Why oh why?

  2. Leo Tat April 19, 2017 at 23:59 #

    Mary, my first experience of the difference in portion sizes were when I visited USA back in year 2000. In UK, in fast food restaurants like McDonalds, we have small, medium and large. I was so surprised I got asked if I wanted super size. I didn’t know what it was until they showed me the soft drink cup. I was in total shock, I can’t imagine anyone gulping up all that coke. It’s a disaster for blood sugar and insulin.
    Leo Tat recently posted..Acrylamide in Coffee: Cancer and Heart Disease Risk?

  3. V8 April 13, 2017 at 04:46 #

    Well I’d rather bigger portion for my money instead of paying and still being hungry maybe it’s just me lol If you can’t eat it just leave it what’s your problem.

  4. EA-The Spicy RD July 21, 2014 at 18:08 #

    Great post-thanks for sharing this Mary! I absolutely agree that the portion sizes here in the US are ridiculously large. My kids eating habits are far from perfect, but one thing I think I’ve done right from the start is never tell them to eat everything off their plates. At home we eat off of large salad plates for portion control, but in restaurants, we pretty much always bring home leftovers. They’re great for putting in school lunches the next day, but I’d rather see portion sizes reduced which in turn, like you say, would promote better health, as well as less food waste.

  5. Betsy Ramirez July 21, 2014 at 17:18 #

    I always enjoy your posts, Mary. I definitely see the difference. In Germany, they go a little bigger, esp with the brats and beer. Water is always smaller. When visiting France, the portions are substantially smaller. I love this! Portion control a HUGE part of the problem. I have also noticed salat is with just about every dish you order in Europe unlike the states where it comes with 3 sides of carbs.

  6. genevieve @ gratitude & greens July 21, 2014 at 16:28 #

    That is one thing I don’t enjoy about visiting America: the portion sizes! I once had dinner with my friend and her parents and… neither of us could finish our food. They were all American, too. If Americans can’t finish the huge sizes, I don’t know who will!

  7. Bala July 21, 2014 at 13:55 #

    De rien, Mary. Thank you for creating an opportunity to discuss an important health topic. Below, is the blog link which also has the references to the research papers:

    Your previous post reminded me to go pick some zucchini blossoms which we enjoyed over the weekend!

    Have a good week!

  8. Bala July 20, 2014 at 14:05 #

    Very important topic of discussion, Mary.
    In trying to answer the question of portion size (among other variables) between people in France and the USA, Paul Rozin and Claude Fischler have published the results of their survey through many research articles. And yes, the portion size is smaller in France, as one can guess even without a quantitative analysis. Interestingly, there are many other relevant variables that were found to be significantly different in this study, such as, time spent conversing during meals; snacking between meals; perception of food as “pleasure” versus “worry”… As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog article about this topic recently in the context of a HEG lecture. There is also a former HEG student who submitted a thesis on this topic.
    Obesity is an important health problem that may be addressed by making simple yet significant everyday changes, and I think, from a gastronomic perspective, maintaining “taste” is important in helping making these changes.

    • mbrighton July 21, 2014 at 05:57 #

      Thanks Bala for your insightful comment! Could you post the link to your article in another comment? I would love to read it and I am sure some others would too. Pleasure versus worry is often on the minds of some who eat and this takes away from true enjoyment in taste. Merci!


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