Serving Size just as influential on Food Intake as Taste

portion size mattersEating fresh, tasty food can bring a measure of delight and satisfaction to just about anyone’s life. Eating is fun. And given a larger portion of whatever it is that we enjoy eating, we likely expect ourselves to consume more. That’s logical. That’s a no brainer. But how willing would you be to scarf down stale food that is over 2 weeks old? “Not very – that’s disgusting,” you might think. Well, think again.

[showmyads] In an intriguing study, Wansink and Kim (2005) examined the influence of serving size on the consumption of food that people generally disliked:

158 Philadelphia moviegoers (57.6% male;  28.7 years) were randomly given a medium (120 grams) or a large (240 grams) container of free popcorn that was either fresh or stale (14 days old). Following the movie, consumption measures were taken along with measures of perceived taste. (p. 242)

The researchers found that moviegoers who were given fresh popcorn in large containers ate 45.3% more than moviegoers who were given medium sized containers. Interestingly, participants who were given stale popcorn still ate 33.6% more than those with medium sized containers, and this despite describing the popcorn as “stale,” “soggy” and “terrible” (Wansink & Kim, 2005).

These findings suggest that we are prone to over-eating not only the foods we like, but also those items we find unpalatable. Put any food item (within reason) in a large box or a big bag and we’ll probably pig out. Serving size matters. We tend to eat to eat as much as we can, of whatever it is that is available.

It’s not all bad though. The findings from the study do have positive potential applications. Given that larger portion sizes can increase food intake regardless of taste, nutritionists and parents can use these principles to increase the consumption of healthier (and less palatable) foods such as fruits, raw vegetables and whole grain products.


Wansink, B. & Kim, J. (2005). Bad popcorn in big buckets: Portion size can influence intake as much as taste. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37(5), 242-245.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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