Appearance is as important as taste if you want to stick to a healthy eating plan.
You don't have to be a celebrity chef to make your meals as visually appealing as they are tasty -- and healthy. Just ask Brian Hill, currently seen on the Bravo reality series Top Chef, and also the personal chef to singer Mary J. Blige.
"It's so easy," he says. "Just remember to do what you like … whatever you are and whatever you do, put it on the plate." If you make pottery, for example, says Hill, serve your veggies in your favorite handmade bowl. If you're a gardener, layer a colorful piece of salmon on a bed of edible homegrown flowers.
This technique, known in the culinary world as "plating," inspires professional chefs to create what they think of as "edible art."
"Presentation is crucial when serving any meal," says Michael Crane, corporate executive chef of ARAMARK, which provides food services to hospitals, universities, stadiums, and businesses around the world. "You need to create 'art' to make your food interesting. If it looks good, they will want to try it, and that goes for healthier meals too."
To create your own culinary work of art, Crane advises that you treat the plate as one unified "canvas," keeping in mind the balance of the composition, the colors, the flow, the patterns, or lines. "This will give your presentation as much depth as possible," he says.
Why 'Small' Is Smart
Mimic upscale restaurants, adds Timothy Ferriss, a member of the Institute of Food Technologists. Using plates that have a small basin for holding food but a large rim makes the serving appear 50% bigger than it actually is, says Ferriss, who also offers this "insider" trick: Drizzle sauce on the rim to visually expand the portion without actually increasing the calories.
Think small, Ferris continues. Use teaspoons instead of tablespoons, appetizer plates in place of larger main course plates, and small sauce or mixing bowls in favor of normal "Goliath-sized" cereal bowls. "This will make smaller portions appear bigger," he says.
And, when you're thinking color, it's not just what's on the plate that counts, says Ferris, but the color of the plate itself. "Black is back," he says. "For whatever reasons, we have found that people eat less and feel more sated when using darker-color containers."
When he was the chef at the Culinary Institute of America's nutritionally-based restaurant, St. Andrew's Café, Ron De Santis made sure that a recommended 4-ounce deck-of-card-sized serving of protein looked attractive and filling. To do that, Santis, currently the director of the institute's Industry Solutions Group, would slice the meat so that it fanned out to cover the surface of the plate, making the portion appear larger. He also suggests stacking food so it looks more exciting and plentiful, and recommends being generous with accompaniments -- such as vegetables -- that are bright, in season, and meet caloric requirements.