So you have a few vegetables that aren’t your favorite, who doesn’t? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to make healthy food taste even better — without adding extra calories, salt, fat or sugar? Well, you’re in luck: it might be easier than you think. Food plating and presentation could be the missing “ingredients” to making your meals more enjoyable. Some research suggests the way you serve your food could enhance its taste and flavor. (Plus, you’ll get that perfect Instagram snap — it’s a win-win!) Here’s how to plate your food beautifully while reaping the tasty benefits.
Taste vs. flavor
Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash
What’s the difference between taste and flavor? We often use these words interchangeably to describe what we eat and drink. Taste is a chemical experience: the bitter, sweet and sour characteristics that the tongue picks up,1 whereas flavor is the overall experience: the taste, smell and texture.1 When combined, great tastes and flavors make eating and drinking more enjoyable.
The science behind food presentation
Research suggests you can trick your brain — and your taste buds — into noticing certain tastes or liking your food even more, simply by changing the way you present your meals.2 There’s actually truth to the expression, “you eat with your eyes first.” The appearance of the food you eat can play a part in your enjoyment of a meal.
Research has shown rounded foods can indicate sweetness or ripeness: think berries, watermelon, cookies, or scoops of ice cream. This association between round shapes and sweet foods is something that research indicates you learn over time. A recent study of taste and food shape was done with the Himba, an indigenous tribe in Namibia. Distanced from modern marketing and advertising methods, tribe members made connections between round foods and bitter tastes, leading researchers to conclude that the sweet/round association was due to environmental influence.3-4
Here are a few science-backed food presentation ideas that may make your next meal taste even better.
Experiment with dishware shapes and colors. Add a little extra sweetness and sophistication to your meal or dessert — just by changing your plate. A 2014 study explored the effects of plate color and shape on participants’ eating experiences. Here’s what they found:
- Try using round white plates: Food was significantly sweeter on a round white plate than when it was eaten from a square white plate.5 Food was given more “intense” ratings from round plates, compared to square ones.
- Or use black square plates: Food was of “significantly higher quality,” compared to when it was eaten from square white or round black plates.
In a separate study, volunteers thought drinks served in orange or cream-colored cups had a better flavor.6 Similar studies found brown and red packaging intensified the flavor of coffee, while blues and yellows resulted in a softer flavor.6
Choose a heavier dish over a lighter one. Want to add bulk to your meal without adding unnecessary calories? Try using a heavy bowl or plate instead of adding more ingredients. One study offered participants three bowls of yogurt where the type and amount of yogurt was the same, but the bowls’ weight varied.7 Participants tested the weight of the bowls in their hands and expected the heaviest one to make them feel more full.
Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash
Unleash your inner artist. Artistically-presented food may taste better than less creative arrangements, according to one study.8 Men and women were given three salads with the same ingredients: one made to resemble a painting by abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, a simple tossed salad, or one where the ingredients were separated on the plate. Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire before and after tasting the salad. Before eating, they rated the Kandinsky-styled salad as more complex and appealing. After trying the salad, study participants gave it a higher “tastiness” rating, even though they’d given it similar ratings to the other salads for sourness, saltiness, bitterness and sweetness. As a result, researchers think aesthetic appeal could play a part in influencing taste.
Savor your meal — mindfully. Practicing mindful eating, or being aware of your food’s taste, smell, texture and appearance, could help you enjoy your meal more — and it may even help you lose weight. Mindful eaters are more likely to be more physically healthy, some research suggests.9 Engaging in mindfulness helps you to tap into all your senses to really experience the food you’re eating. Rather than quickly eating to quiet your hunger pangs, take a moment to appreciate how your meal will help nourish your body. (Check out these six tips to help you eat more mindfully!)
Food presentation tips
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Have you ever seen an amazing food photo and instantly wanted to try it? Those drool-worthy meal pics aren’t so hard to recreate. Combine the science behind food presentation with these clever tips, and you’ll be on your way to food-plating perfection.
Nice dishes? Use ‘em! Paper plates and plastic utensils might make for quick and easy cleanup, but you deserve to make dining a delicious experience — not just a speedy meal. Did you know parents eat 156 meals standing up every year? Break that trend: lay out the fine china and cloth napkins, take a seat at the table, and relax. Plus, a heavier dish might make your meal seem more satisfying.7
Pick one ingredient and let it shine. Love veggies? Make them the centerpiece of your plate. Build other ingredients around them to keep your plate looking balanced and uncluttered.
Don’t be afraid of empty space. You don’t need to completely fill your plate or bowl with food to make it look appetizing. Give your ingredients a little room to breathe, and you’ll be able to appreciate each one without overwhelming your taste buds. This simple serving size guide will help you get the perfect portions at every meal.
Add a little garnish. Whether it’s parsley, cilantro, a spritz of lemon juice or a dash of spice, finishing your plate with a garnish will make your dish look as good as it tastes. Bonus: These are all Jenny Craig-approved Fresh & Free Additions that complement a variety of flavors.
Try these tips to make your food look — and maybe even taste — better! We’ll let you be the judge.
Have a delicious, photo-worthy dish you want to share? We’d love to see it! Use the hashtags #JennyCraigFood and #TeamJennyCraig, then tag us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to show us your most inspired Jenny Craig meals.
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig and has written for the health and wellness, tech, and environmental industries. Stephanie graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies. They employ an “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoy the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find them photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.
Favorite healthy snack: Green apple slices with sunflower butter
Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
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