Joni Sare, cooking instructor

How to: 4 Key Components to Make a Meal Look Appealing

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Every recipe, every meal – ever made – has these four basic components to make it look appealing.

In this post, you will learn the 4 key components of creating a meal that looks appealing. By knowing these 4 elements, you'll have the foundation to make decisions on pairing food for presentation, enjoyment and have a nutritionally-dense meal.

The 4 key components for an delicious looking meal

We eat first with our eyes so just like a painting the colors on our plate need to work together. Use ONE color, or multiple colors that complement or contrast each other. 

More about color, below.

The shape of the food draws your interest by bringing movement to the plate. Your eye recognizes and traces the geometric shapes: cubes, juliennes, chunks, slices, wedges. 

More about shape, below.

Different sizes of food in a dish are meant for two reasons:

  1. for flavor
  2. the experience (presentation and mouthfeel)

More about shape, below.

We are able to look at food and associate the texture with its mouthfeel and know if we will enjoy it or not. Think of a pillowy-soft marshmallow versus a potato chip; or a nutty granola compared to cheesy pasta; or an apple compared to a brownie. We see these items and know distinctly what the mouthfeel will be. 

In regards to veggies, the texture generally comes from how or where the food is grown on the plant: 

  1. Roots
  2. Stalks and stems
  3. Leaves
  4. Fruit/berries/nuts/seeds/grains
Click here to read about the key components of flavors in a dish and in your meal.

Here is a dish with 3 different veggies -- all the same color and different shapes.

Color: to make a meal look appetizing

Cooking by color is used for several reasons

1) Presentation using COLOR is first and foremost the important factor for good looking meals

The look of the dish needs to be appealing –use similar colors, complimentary colors or contrasting colors. More about presentation, below.

2) Nutrition in colors should not be overlooked

Different colors inherently provide different nutrition. The color in food is created by phytochemicals and other compounds which our bodies use as nutrients.

3) Texture in color will make a meal look good

Different colors often means that the food was taken from different parts of of the plant, which causes different textures. More about texture, below.

Presentation: choose your food by color

VEGGIES: When shopping for produce, stand in one place and scan the area to look for different colors: red veggies, green veggies, purple, yellow and white. Look at all the beautiful colors of the rainbow. Put them on your plate and you'll have an appetizing meal.​

MEAT: When buying meat look for different parts of the animal. The color is commonly the same, and most will change to brown when cooked, however they will have different flavor, texture and nutritional profile.

SEAFOOD: When buying fish, shellfish and other seafood you'll find that the colors are mostly pink or white. And some red or brown.


Shape & Size: to make a meal look interesting

There are several reasons for using specific shapes and sizes:

We recognize geometric shapes and it pulls our attention to the plate. The plate will look boring with everything being the same shape and size. Shapes draw your attention because they create movement --triangles and wedges, circles and half moons, cubes and straight lines.

Many dishes start with small-diced onions and garlic because when these small bits are cooked they break down and become the background flavor of the dish. You won’t have a bite without its flavor.

Large pieces are often the only item in the mouth at one time, it should contrast the other items on the plate - in flavor and texture.

Even cooking is referring to specific components in the dish: the same size onions will brown at the same temperature and time. The same size broccoli will be done cooking at the same time. If you're making a one-pot meal, you'll add the food at specific intervals and will need similar food to be the same size so that it cooks at the same rate.

Eating behavior

In food psychology, the size and shape of food affects the way we eat and how much. Our taste is influenced by the shape and size of food. influence the way your taste buds perceive the food

Texture: to make keep people's attention

The texture of the food is what you experience when chewing — as well as when using your knife and fork to cut and pick up the food.

The physical characteristics of food is its texture such as:

  • soft, al dente, or hard
  • mushy, lumpy or crunchy
  • tender, chewy or tough

Another characteristic is "consistency" — the thickness or thinness of a food or a dish. This is directly related to "mouth feel" such as light-, medium-, or full-body wines.

The viscosity is also a major part of the texture, which mostly comes from fat. It's slower to breakdown in the mouth and so the flavor lingers longer and can actually coat the tongue until another food is consumed.


A Gallery of Meals

Orange Ginger Stir Fry

Now that your plate and brain are full of the foods of the rainbow, you are ready to make my easy “Orange Ginger Stir Fry. It is better than Panda Express’s Orange Chicken!

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