Derval O'Rourke: Knowing your portion sizes is the key to healthy eating

In recent weeks one of my biggest healthy lifestyle challenge has been how much I’ve been eating.
Derval O'Rourke: Knowing your portion sizes is the key to healthy eating

In recent weeks one of my biggest healthy lifestyle challenge has been how much I’ve been eating. I’ve found getting exercise was straight forward and an easy way to motivate myself but to push myself to eat the correct portions has been way harder. This week I’m sharing tips of portioning and recipe wise I have a chicken and broccoli bake.

For the past four weeks I’ve been doing a healthy at home challenge on, before the challenge started I asked people what they were finding hard and the number one answer was eating too much.

Derval O'Rourke
Derval O'Rourke

After consulting with food experts the theme for the food element of my four-week challenge was portioning. It’s incredibly important to portion correctly and to understand why you should eat particular quantities of foods. Whatever your health goal is, knowing what your portions should look like is a key tool.

Your plate should consist of a balance of macronutrients - these are protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and healthy fats. What are each of these food groups and why do you need them?

Protein: Protein is an important component of every cell in your body, with it being the main constituent of your hair and nails. Protein is the nutrient you can thank for building and repairing tissues. You’ll need it to recover from any workout.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. You have energy needs all day long, fuelling these needs is key. You need energy even to sleep, so you can only imagine the energy requirements for a workout. The brain uses a huge amount of the body’s circulating glucose on a daily basis, even at rest. So, to stay sharp and perform at your best, carbohydrates are essential.

Vegetables: Vegetables are a great way to get all of those very important nutrients. Lots of colour helps our body and mind to thrive, so eat the rainbow. The more colour the better. They are also a great source of fibre which keeps your gut healthy and provides a wonderful environment for growth of healthy bacteria.

Healthy Fats: Your body needs healthy fats for energy and to support healthy growth. Healthy fats are hugely important for hormones and feeling well. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats because they are a real asset to your health goals. Plant based fats like nuts, seeds, avocado are an ideal source of nutritious fats.

How much of each food group should you be eating?

Portion sizes are dependent on how much of each food component to choose and how much space this should take up on a plate. It is recommended that your plate is the size of your hand, from the base of your palm to your fingertips, as a way to visually understand.

If your goal is to drop weight, your plate should be: 50% vegetables, 25% protein, 25% carbohydrates and 1tbsp of healthy fats. (This is a guideline and if you have individual queries I’d suggest having a chat with a registered dietitian.) If your goal is to increase your weight: Increase your serving of healthy fats by 1-2 tablespoons on your balanced plate and you can also increase your carbohydrates if preferred by adding an extra few tablespoon of your carbohydrate source.

If you are trying to lose weight, try to keep your protein intake higher and reduce your intake of energy dense fats and carbohydrate. This may be as simple as having a smaller portion of nuts in your snack or using less dressing on your salads. Be mindful of how much oil you are using to cook your food and remember to be aware of the energy content of any drinks you consume throughout the day.

If you are post workout, and if you feel you need a little extra protein and energy to recover, consider adding a small glass of milk and a piece of fruit or a simple chicken sandwich to increase the carbohydrate source of the meal.

Chicken & Broccoli Bake 

This makes a tasty dinner and the leftovers are great for lunch the next day. In my house this dinner is often a combination of leftover chicken and cooked pasta or quinoa. It’s a handy and tasty way to use up leftover and reduce food waste.

Prep Time: 60 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Serves 4


360ml natural yoghurt

2 tsp plain flour

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp Dijon mustard Juice of ½ lemon

90g quinoa or pasta, cooked and cooled

4 skinless chicken breast fillets, cooked, cooled and shredded

300g broccoli, cooked and cooled Salt 100g Parmesan, grated

70g pine nuts

Portion of vegetables to serve

Sweet Potato Mash, to serve (optional)


Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas 3.

Mix the Greek yoghurt, gram flour, curry powder, mustard and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside.

Spread the cooked or pasta quinoa in an even layer in the base of an ovenproof dish.

Mix the chicken, broccoli and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl and arrange this mixture in another layer on top of the quinoa.

Pour the Greek yoghurt mixture into the dish, spreading it into an even layer, and sprinkle the Parmesan and pine nuts over. Bake for about 40 minutes. Divide the bake between warmed serving bowls and serve with Sweet Potato Mash.

Wellness Tip: Take 10 to be Zen. If you’re feeling stressed, take a 10 minute time out to slow down your thoughts and concentrate on your breathing.

Fitness Tip: Make sure you have an active recovery day; this means that your goal is to recover from the week's exercises but keep your body moving

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