The scrolling vine pattern on a Precise Portions plate divides the plate… (Michael Harrison )
What does your filled dinner plate look like? Do mashed potatoes take up most of the space, with meat not far behind and nary an inch left over for a fresh vegetable?
Then you might need some help. The Precise Portions line of porcelain dishes and glassware is designed to take the guesswork out of assembling a healthful plate of food. A stylized vine design divides dinner plates into sections, with half reserved for vegetables and fruits, a quarter for starchy vegetables, and a quarter for proteins. Also, at 10 inches in diameter the plate is smaller than most dinner plates these days and no, you're not supposed to pile food on it vertically.
One version of the Precise Portions plates has just the vine design, while another is printed with a food guide (unfortunately, the word "veggies" is used). The design-only plates can be used when company is around so no one is the wiser. Other products include a bowl that also has inconspicuous markers denoting various serving sizes for foods such as cereal and soup, and similar glassware.
The products debuted in November; a set of four dinner plates is about $90.
This isn't the first such visual-guide plate to help people understand that a 12-ounce T-bone steak is not considered a reasonable portion. But many other versions on the market have bold, colorful graphics that aren't really suited to, say, a dinner party.
"We wanted this to help people make a lifestyle change, to provide a way for you and your family to eat healthier for the rest of your life," said Precise Portions co-founder Ann-Marie Stephens. She and her husband, Ed, former chemical engineers based in Richmond, Va., were inspired to create the dishes after counseling family members who had Type 2 diabetes.
Are people that clueless that they can't figure out portion size on their own? It can't be that difficult, especially now that the food pyramid has been replaced with MyPlate, a free template basically offering the same thing as portion-control plates.
"What we found is that most people don't have the discipline to [arrange a healthful plate] for every meal every day," Ann-Marie Stephens said. "I'd say there's some percentage of the population that can self-control, and they can go to a smaller plate and bowl and glass and get results." But if we're trying to retrain ourselves using the same old dishes, she added, we may be stymied in our efforts to eat better.
"We want to help Americans to form new habits," said Ed Stephens. "What our dinnerware does is allow people to repeat a process over and over so in their minds they have a template." It will, he added, make restaurant meals more manageable -- after working with the plates, diners will know instantly that that pound of rice pilaf isn't a serving size.
Restaurant serving sizes are partly to blame for our love affair with gargantuan portion sizes, says Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian in Burbank and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn. "People wanted to get a good deal and get more for their money, and restaurants started serving bigger portions, maybe to entice more people to come."
Because of those large amounts, she added, we've forgotten to check in with hunger cues -- do we really need to chow down until we're bursting, or would half of what we usually eat be enough to satisfy us? Eating more and exercising less has turned us to a nation made up of mostly overweight and obese adults. "No matter how big the portion is," she said, "you need to stop eating when you're satisfied. That could be a drop of food if you're not that hungry."
For diabetics, she adds, portion size is paramount: "It's not so much what you each, but how much you eat. Your body doesn't know if you're eating potatoes or rice or a brownie once it breaks it down and converts it into sugar. That's why portion size is important."
The Stephenses hope to change the world one plate at a time as they work on adding more dishes for snacks and desserts to the line. "Just stay within the lines," Ann-Marie said, "and you're good."