Money Diet, week 19: The serving size trap

I'm thinking a lot about serving sizes this week. Several days ago, I went to the grocery store and bought a low-fat garden vegetable lasagna frozen meal. Made by a company called Cedarlane, it was very tasty and pretty healthy (I have no beef with the food and am not really looking to pick a fight). But while I was in the store, I glanced at the "nutrition facts" on the back of the package and saw that the total fat was three grams, the sodium count was 390 milligrams and the calories were only 180.

That seemed pretty good to me, so I bought it.

When I got home and popped the lasagna in the microwave, I looked a little more closely at the package. That's when I noticed, right above all that other information, it said "Servings per container: 2."

I was more amused than irked. Even if you double the 180 calories, the fat and perhaps the sodium, that's not too bad for frozen, prepackaged food. I probably would have bought it regardless. But all I could think was: Do they really expect two people to share this?

We're talking a portion that -- just by eyeballing the measurements -- is probably six inches long and three inches wide. As a meal for one, it's reasonably generous and perhaps quite filling if you're, say, 120 pounds. So maybe I'm wrong to think they're wrong for putting two serving sizes in a five-ounce package.

Still, it reminds of me of the time several years ago when my brother started eating a candy bar and, at some point, examined the nutritional information and saw that the makers had put "two servings" on the packaging. He was indignant enough that he called the manufacturer and asked if they really expected people to eat half the candy bar and then set it down to finish later. As I recall, they didn't have much of a response.

I guess I'm stalling with all this talk about serving sizes. If I keep rambling on, then I don't have to discuss how much weight I did or didn't lose.

As regular readers of "The Money Diet" know, I've been tracking how much money I'm not spending on junk food and snacks this year. My reasoning is, by adding up what I'm saving by not spending money on some of this stuff, I'll hopefully lose weight. And I have. But I've plateaued lately. In about two weeks, though, I'm going on a day-long hike with my aforementioned brother, and while I know one day of exercise won't turn things around, I admit I'm hoping that it helps me turn a corner.

Anyway, here's how my weight is looking these days. I didn't lose or gain anything this week.

My weight when I began: 264
My weight last week: 244.5
My weight this week: 244.5

As for how much money I saved, I didn't have any fast food this week, and I kept it light on the snacks. I didn't get out much this week, though, so I wasn't often near temptation and don't feel like I really saved all that much money. But here are the (few) highlights of the week.
  • I made a trip to the grocery store this week, as I often do. My wife does a lot of the shopping, but I always seem to be running to the store to pick up a gallon of milk or some other random item we need. Since I didn't buy any bags of chips or tubs of ice cream -- as I probably would have prior to this year -- I'll assume that I saved at least $6.
  • I drove to a convenience store to buy some diet pop (one of my vices, albeit better, I like to think, than the regular soda). As we all know, when you're trying to lose weight, going into one of those stores can be like sending an eight-year-old to a toy store and asking him to buy something educational. Maybe not the best analogy, but since I didn't wind up buying a candy bar, or the hot pizza with its beckoning scent wafting from one corner of the store, and ignored the pleas of the potato chips and cookies...I'll assume I saved at least $3.
  • We did eat at a fast food restaurant this week, now that I think about it, if you call Subway fast food. I had a low-fat chicken sandwich and didn't buy a big of chips or one of their big cookies, so let's assume that I saved $1. So that all translates to the following...
My total saved this week: $10
Total saved this year so far: $396.12

So there you go. Meanwhile, I'm going to take a magnifying glass with me to the grocery store next time I go and even more closely scrutinize the serving sizes. Cedarlane -- again, not picking on them -- also has a very tasty eggplant Parmesan meal, which I purchased along with the low-fat garden lasagna. The eggplant meal has eight grams of fat -- provided you only eat half of it. If you have the entire meal (and I swear, it looks like it's for one person), it's really 16 grams. Sigh.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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