Food doesn’t need to be expensive to be special. In fact, food presentation can make the simplest, cheapest eats seem like a feast for a king.
While few of us have unlimited grocery budgets, it’s not that hard to put out a fancy spread.
Oh sure, you can spend a small fortune on groceries, but the cost isn’t really what puts a dish’s best food forward. Even the simplest meals can dress to impress. It’s all a question of food presentation.
Food presentation? What’s that?
Years ago I worked in a catering kitchen, assembling deli and cheese trays, preparing cocktail sandwiches, and displaying fruit in attractive ways. Except for the hair net and the ugly apron, I enjoyed the job immensely — especially since I love food and I love feeding people. My culinary knowledge exploded during those years.
One of the mantras that my manager repeated to me often was, “Presentation is everything.”
What he meant was, it doesn’t matter how good it tastes if it looks bad. And in the same vein, if the food’s not up to par, we’ll make up for it by making it pretty. 😉
While those theories certainly breakdown at some point in home cooking, they’re helpful to think about. Even if we’re eating on a budget, it can still look pretty. And a pretty plate makes one feel rich.
Even if you aren’t.
Why is food presentation important?
They say that you eat with your eyes first. If a dish is colorful, fresh-looking, and appealing to your eyes, it’s already tempted you and made you want to taste it. It gets you ready for the act of eating and enjoying the food.
Just as a food with a pleasant aroma beckons you to taste it, so does the food with a nice presentation.
What is a garnish used for?
A garnish is something added to a prepared dish to make it more appealing, to add color, texture, or a contrasting flavor. Think of lemon slices, chopped herbs, or sliced avocado as something that will make the plate pretty and add some color. All these things add to a prettier food presentation.
Is a garnish edible?
Yes. Anything that you add to a plate should, in theory, be edible. It would be unsafe to assume that your guests know not to eat the decorations you’ve put on their plate, so be sure to serve only garnishes that are edible.
Take, for example, the chimichangas pictured here. That meal is a very inexpensive one. But, the presentation of the crispy burritos, fresh salsa, and other toppings makes a very pretty – and delicious looking – presentation. It feels “special” even if it’s just plain ol’ burritos.
How do you plate a dish?
Here are some ways that you can make your plates and your food presentation in general a little more inviting:
Use the freshest ingredients you can.
Fresh ingredients make for a prettier food presentation. No one wants wilted lettuce! So be sure to buy the freshest available.
Talk to the produce guy and ask him to teach you how to select ripe produce. Alternatively, you can also request that he help you select the best items. If you have a plan for when you’ll serve it, that will help him determine the right stage of ripeness.
The closer you can buy your product to the source (ie, from the butcher, the dairy, or the farm) the fresher it should be. Your mileage may vary depending on where you live.
Pay attention to color.
For some reason brown, white, yellow, and orange foods don’t really tempt our senses. Reds and greens liven up a plate immensely.
Add diced tomato to a salad, chopped red pepper to a pizza, or a cherry atop the sundae.
Even a sprinkle of chopped parsley, basil, or cilantro over the top of a savory recipe can make a difference in the food presentation. People will be more likely to want to eat your food. That’s always a good thing!
Use pretty serving dishes and linens.
Pretty serving dishes and linens make a big difference in the food presentation, even though they aren’t edible. Food stands out nicely on white dishes, so don’t think you need to invest in fancy decorated dishes.
You also don’t have to spend a ton on new serving ware, just keep your eyes open at garage sales and thrift stores. Pretty is as pretty does, not how much pretty costs.
Your dishes don’t even need to be fancy for the food to feel special. Whenever anyone sees my lunches served in these meal prep containers, they always ask about the containers. There’s just something about the presentation of the simple salad in a black box that makes it more attractive.
Make friends with ramekins.
Ramekins are little glass dishes often used in baking or for serving individual portions. They also make great serving vessels for condiments and side salads. Buy them whenever you see a good deal and use them often.
Again, a stroll through a thrift store may garner you a decent collection for just a few pennies.
Serve condiments in dishes rather than their original containers.
While this may make more work for the dishwasher, it makes a huge difference to the table you set and to your food presentation in general.
Serving condiments in dishes takes the focus away from the brand of sour cream and the advertising plastered across its packaging and allows you to think more about the food and the company. It also prevents cross contamination of a larger container.
A little thought into your food presentation can make a huge difference in how those at your table feel about the meal. It attracts all their senses and gets them ready to enjoy what you’ve prepared, even if it’s budget fare.
Food presentation is worth your while. And not hard to accomplish!
Speaking of beautiful meals…. Want to make the holiday season a little brighter this year?
Ease your seasonal stress by planning in advance how you will handle your holiday kitchen.
Take the Celebrate Simply workshop and get ready to jingle all the way.
Learn more here.