What is a serve?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines group foods together that share similar nutrients, this creates the Five Food Groups. For example milk, cheese and yogurt are all good sources of calcium, riboflavin, protein and B12.

Within each food group the Australian Dietary Guidelines identifies the serve size of different foods that have roughly the same amount of key nutrients and kilojoules but that also reflect the amount of food commonly eaten in Australia, for example one piece of whole fruit or one slice of bread.

The ‘serve size’ is a set amount stated in the  Australian Dietary Guidelines and this doesn’t change. However, your ‘portion size’ will depend on how hungry you are and what type of meal or snack you are eating. For example, your ‘portion size’ may be two slices of bread in a sandwich for lunch, but only ½ slice of bread with a meal when you aren’t very hungry.

The serve size tables (Adults, Children, Adolescents and Toddlers) in the Australian Dietary Guidelines is often not the same as your portion size. Portion size is the amount that you actually eat. For example, your ‘portion sizes’ at breakfast may be half a small tub of yoghurt on your ½ cup muesli. This would only be half a ‘serve’ of yoghurt, but two ‘serves’ of muesli. To see how big a serve is for different foods, take a look at the Five Food Groups via the links below under 'getting portion size right'.

Getting portion size right

It is important for weight control and essential for weight loss to think about your portion size. We tend to ignore our bodies signals of hunger and satiety (satisfaction) until we’ve eaten too much and are overfull.

Many people say they rarely feel hungry. Learn to recognise how it feels to be ‘peckish’, ‘hungry’, ‘ravenous’, or ‘satisfied’, ‘full’ and ‘stuffed’. Perhaps imagine your stomach as a petrol tank with a gauge and aim for somewhere between quarter and half full. When you eat, think first about how much you really need to feel satisfied and how far away the next meal or snack is.

Eat slowly, ‘mindfully’ without distractions like TV and give your body time to give you feedback. Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls when you’re chewing, or sip water in between swallows to slow your pace. Pace yourself with a ‘slow’ eater or even the clock. Concentrate on how a food looks, smells, tastes and feels in your mouth and stomach. By eating ‘mindfully’, you will enjoy food more and end up needing less to feel satisfied.

An image to illustrate the five food groups. Illustrative only.

Take a look at the Five Food Groups and see how big a serve is for each of the Five Food Groups:

How much water is needed?

There is no single recommended amount of water, as a person’s requirements at any one time will vary depending on climate, physical activity, and individual bodies. The following intakes can however be used as a general guide: about 4-5 cups of fluids a day for children up to 8 years, about 6-8 cups for adolescents, 8 cups for women (9 cups  in pregnancy and lactation) and about 10 cups for men. These amounts include fluid from all sources including all hot and cold drinks, but water is the best.

How much unsaturated spreads and oils can I include in my diet?

A ‘serve’ of foods that provide unsaturated fat such as unsaturated margarine or oil, nuts and seeds is 10g (such as two teaspoons of margarine or oil). However, these foods are high in kilojoules so remember to always keep quantities small, especially if aiming to lose weight. Spread unsaturated margarine, nut pastes and avocado thinly. Use just 1 teaspoon (measured not poured) per person in cooking and think of avocado, seeds and nuts as sprinkles, garnishes or a snack in small quantities.

Follow the links below to find out how many serves you need to eat per day. To read the table, find your sex, then read across to find your age and keep reading across from left to right along each food group listed at the top of the table to find the number of serves you need from each food group.

Minimum recommended average daily number of serves from each of the five food groups

Some days people might eat more serves from one food group, and other days less. However, over the week, the average number of serves from each food group should match the minimum recommended in the Guidelines.

There are endless possibilities for how to combine these serves from the food groups in interesting and tasty ways. Click on the link below to see how you might spread them out over one day.

Mixed foods

Mixed foods and meals can still be classified into the five food groups and ‘discretionary’ food choices, if you know what different foods they are made from. For example, a beef salad sandwich might be made up of two serves of bread, ½ a serve of meat, ½ a serve of tomato, ½ a serve of margarine and ¼ of a serve of salad vegetables.

Beef salad sandwich - serve breakdown


Grain (Cereal) foods Vegetables legumes/beans Fruit Milk yoghurt cheese and alternatives Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds legume/beans Unsat spreads  and oils
Bread (2 slices) 2 serves




Roast Beef (30g)



1/2 serve
Tomato- 3 slices (40g)
1/2 serve



Lettuce and cucumber (1/4 cup)
1/2 serve



Poly Margarine
(1 teaspoon)





1/2 serve

Meal Planning