Last time around we discussed the idea that ideal meals need to be beautiful: if you’re going to go through the trouble of having something your body craves, in a setting that you love, enjoyed with exactly who you want to enjoy it with, and lasting just how long you want it to last, it kind of makes sense that the meal needs to be as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the rest of your senses. Welcome to the world of simple food styling!
Interestingly, I came to this conclusion while researching another problem: I’d been taking some pictures of various dishes I’d made for another project, and they weren’t coming out right. The lighting was bad, or there was something else in the frame, or various other problems cropped up, but here’s the thing: after I was done with the picture taking, the photo subject became my next meal.
And I found myself enjoying it less, knowing that it didn’t look great on the camera LCD. There’s some anchoring happening here, for sure, with me having seen what I thought was a good looking plate in another, less attractive view, but even if you don’t see it in a viewfinder, shouldn’t your meals be like the pictures in the magazines, or at least the plates you get served in fancy restaurants?
(I’m not a fan of body image stereotypes in magazine ads, but food pics? Oh yeah.)
First, the bad news: you’re going to have a hard time making your meal look like the one in most magazine pictures. For one thing, they’ve been put together by professional food stylists (yes, food styling is something people do for a living,) and some of the contents of the picture might not even be edible (liberties might be taken to get colours stronger, and often the meal is undercooked to make it look more vibrant.)
Even so, there are a few food styling tricks you can use to make your meal more pleasing to the eye, which, by my theories, will make it digest better (eyes are some of the first organs of digestion) and give you a greater sense of self-appreciation (you’re worth a beautiful meal, right?) – without adding a lot of time to your busy day.
Here are my four best tricks for a prettier plate:
1) Add a bit of colour
If your plate is a bit monochromatic, a bit of garnish in a different colour can liven things up. I eat fresh pineapple every morning, and I’ve got to say, I enjoy it more now that I’ve added some other fruits to the mix – a sea of light yellow first thing in the morning was pretty boring in comparison.
Here’s an example of pineapple done right (sadly, not by me, but I’m inspired already):
The reds and blues really add something here. If I knew anything about colour theory I’d talk about complementary or additive colours, but I don’t, so I’ll advise you to do what I do: go for what seems the most obvious. Add the sprig of parsley like they do in restaurants (I think it’s officially there to reduce garlic breath, but you can use it to add green to a red dish, plus it’ll make you feel like you’re dining out,) or try red pepper rings or tomato wedges if you think your tofu platter looks a bit beige.
2) Portion according to pace
This one’s a bit more subjective – your ideal plate is going to be ideal to you, depending on your mood, situation, and how much time you have. If you’re famished, load the plate up and celebrate abundance. If you’ve got the time, make the plate a little sparser so you’ll be more inclined to savour each bite.
3) Spices, sauces and syrups
I learned about this from Doug McNish when he competed in the Iron Chef competition at last year’s Vegetarian Food Fair: a splash of syrup or sauce with a spoon dragged through it can add $3 to the price of a dish at a restaurant. Why not do it at home?
You can also drizzle sauce around the edge of the plate, or drop a bit of spice in an open area for visual effect (paprika works well for this.)
4) Get good (cheap) dishes
This is the only tip that has a bit of a cost to it: invest in some nice white plates. Sure, you could go fancy with something like this Corelle Winter Frost White 10-Inch Plate, which goes for something like $23 per plate, but I think we got ours at Ikea – possibly the FÄRGRIK, which will run you $4 each.
A nice smooth plate without any patterns on it will remove any distractions from the food; it’s a blank canvas to put your masterpiece on – one of as many as six masterpieces you’ll enjoy today.
That’s just four tips, but there are tons more ways to make a meal prettier without any real effort. What do you do when you’re presenting a meal, or what are you going to do next time? Do you believe you’re worth the 30 extra seconds to make each meal a treat for your eyes as well as your body? If not, why not? Let’s learn together in the comments!