If you’re following my 10 Rules for Meal Planning Success, you have already know about the basics of getting the job done. Still, success is not just about getting tasty food to the table. It is also about whether it looks delicious.
As in romance, the “packaging” of a meal isn’t the whole story, but it sure helps. Of course, what is attractive to one person or culture may not be appealing to another. I am not suggesting that there are universal rules for how to make food mouth-watering. But it's easy (and quick) to turn the initial impression that food makes from blah to appetizing.
These tips are not for Martha-Stewarts-in-training. If you already care deeply about whether your serving pieces match your silverware, you can skip this post. In fact, I might benefit from whatever lessons you would be willing to impart on how to set my “everyday” table.
For the rest of you, who have been concentrating on making good tasting meals and haven’t yet thought about how your meals look - check these out.
5 Tips to Make Your Meals Look Better
- From cavemen to school cafeteria to your table. No cartons or packages at the table. If you take butter out of its wrapper and put it in a dish, put toppings like yogurt or sour cream in bowls instead of leaving them in their cartons, and ban milk/juice cartons (use a pitcher or fill the glasses at the counter), you set a mood that says "this meal was not thrown together, even if it is breakfast for dinner." It is a small step in the evolution of eating - from hunting and gathering, to school lunches on a tray, to eating a yogurt straight from the container, standing at the kitchen counter and now to sitting down to a beautifully presented meal.
- Think of food like it was an outfit. Try for colorful on the plate, or at least not monotonous. You wouldn’t wear white pants with a cream top and tan socks would you? Food colors do matter because your eyes eat before anything gets to your mouth. Even a salad on the side of a stew provides color that makes the whole meal more appealing. Texture also needs coordination - e.g. if the main dish has sauce maybe the side dish should not.
- Serving is not a dirty word. If you already have the color thing down, think about how you serve food. Dishes need not be fancy or expensive; platters and bowls from yard sales, Ikea, or Target work fine. Instead of scooping it out of a pot on the stove, it is nice to bring food to the table. Even a nice pot or skillet looks perfectly lovely sitting in the middle of the table. If you do use a serving plate, arranging the food takes the meal up even another notch.
- Plating food. If the dish being served has sauce, use a bowl or plate with a rim. Keeping food corralled keeps it neat; the plate or bowl should accommodate what is served, but not be so big that the food looks lost on it. (Sure fancy restaurants often put tiny portions on huge plates, but this is home cooking.) I prefer a separate plate for salad/bread. Not everyone agrees, but at least offer the option, so that folks like me can keep salad separate from our spaghetti sauce or chicken juice.
- When in doubt, garnish. If it looks mushy, garnish it. (That is a direct quote from my favorite crepe-maker!) There is nothing like a beautiful garnish to transform a dish.
Happy Friday! Let us know what you’re doing to make your meals look as good as they taste.