How much you eat doesn’t have to be controlled by tiny portions or unappetising food. There are more subtle, and surprising, ways to cut down on how much you eat.

Many of our eating habits are formed early in life or over many years, shaped by our families and surroundings. What and when we eat, foods we crave or avoid, knowing how much is enough – these habits are notoriously hard to change. But scientists have been busy devouring super-size helpings of data, and among their findings are some great suggestions for changes to how you present and serve your food.

Smaller Plates, Bowls and Cups

Average dinner plate size has increased 22 percent between 1900 and 2010, and in many people there’s a strong urge to fill a plate (it looks sad or wrong when only half full). Then, an order to clear their plate is instilled in many people as children, and remains long after they’ve stopped growing.

Large and attractive bowls are bought or given as gifts, then they’re put to bad use for the wrong sorts of food, misused for huge servings of pasta or soup. Large toppings of cheese or high-calories sauces are added. And the way chefs present convivial dining, with gatherings of people helping themselves from buffets or large serving bowls on the table, only tempts people to eat more. Larger self-serve portions have been observed in studies to be a particular problem among people who are already overweight.

Cup size and shape makes a subtle difference but it’s a factor that adds up over time, according to a study published in Substance Abuse & Misuse. More wine was poured into shorter, wider glasses each time than taller, slimmer ones of the same volume, and hand-held glasses attracted larger measures than a glass sitting on a table.

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No Easy Refills

Serving food away from where it’s consumed, at a counter or in the kitchen, can make hundreds of calories’ difference to every meal. Putting refills and seconds out of reach can be enough to deter diners from getting up and walking for a few seconds to refill their plates. A FASEB journal study of university staff at lunchtime found people served away from the table consumed 23-35 percent less food than those with the food in front of them.

Leftovers, Extra Helpings Or Food Waste?

Refrigerated food wrapped in foil is a third less likely to be eaten than food in clear wrapping, according to a study in the Journal of Physiology and Behaviour. Out of sight and out of mind can keep greedy hands off treats you are saving for yourself, but it’s also more likely to be forgotten, as if it was pushed back into the depths of the fridge.

Placing healthier foods (in smaller portions, naturally) in clear wrap or bags, and making them the first thing you see when you open the fridge door, can have a strong influence on what is chosen for the next meal, or packed lunch to take to work that day.