Food presentation is the art of arranging and garnishing food so it looks more appealing. The way the food looks on the plate is what tempts our eyes and makes us want to taste it. Thus food presentation is particularly important when someone is having difficulty eating due to illness or treatment. Spending just a short time on this can really make a difference.
Food presentation is particularly important because we eat with all our senses. If going through chemo, some of our senses may be “off” – for example everything tastes odd or the smell of food makes us nauseous – in which case, appealing to our other senses becomes even more vital so as to encourage someone to eat nourishing food. We’ve already discussed taste, texture, smell, so today we’ll focus on the visual appeal of food. While you might think that food presentation can take a lot of time, the reality is that once you have a few ideas, a couple of minutes can make a huge difference as to whether someone wants to eat the food or not.
Setting the table
Start by clearing some space on the table (or use a tray) and set out a nice placemat and cutlery to set the scene. What about a napkin – paper or otherwise, a vase of flowers? The idea is to make the area for eating appealing, before the food even arrives.
If you are feeling creative for a special meal, how about adding a touch of whimsy to the table like I did with these characters made from chayote squash and ginger!:
Often someone’s appetite might be reduced with chemo, so think about what plates you will use and what portion size you will serve. It could well be that your usual plates are too large so instead try using a small plate for a small portion, and keep the option of having seconds later. This way, the plate and food don’t seem overwhelming.
Plating the food
When it comes to putting food on the plate – first of all, what color is the plate? If it is a bold bright pattern, think about whether it will distract from the food or will it set off the food beautifully?
Small plain white dishes and plates might be the best at setting off any color of food. Or considering the food you are serving, maybe you have dishes that are different shapes and complementary colors that will add some interest?
We want the food to look attractive, so think about how you pour a sauce onto a dish. Is it best on the side in a little container, or nicely drizzled over to create an interesting pattern. Or just a ‘puddle’ on the side? It’s all about making the food look more appetizing and interesting to someone who isn’t that interested in eating.
Think about playing with the height of the food. Instead of putting foods next to each other, for example, put the fish on top of rice and vegetables, like you will see in restaurants, and then add the sauce around the outside. Or pile up the potatoes and lean asparagus up against them. Or keep one item in another dish on the plate as shown in this photo. Just play with it a little. It needn’t take long. And it certainly doesn’t have to be perfect.
Odd numbers of items look better on a plate than even numbers do, so if you are serving small falafels for example, serve three (or one) instead of two.
Garnishing is a great way to add color and texture to your food. If you are stuck for ideas when considering what to use for garnishing, look at the color wheel for complementary colors. It might sound odd but garnishing a yellow, lemon dessert with edible violet flowers looks stunning, or you can try adding green herbs and pumpkin seeds on top of a red tomato soup for a delicious addition.
Take a look at the following photos that demonstrate just how appealing a tiny (and quick) difference a garnish can make to a dish, that otherwise would look a little like something out of a laboratory! I would much prefer the bottom two dishes than the top ones – and their garnish took a mere couple of seconds and cost just a few cents, using one raspberry or three blueberries, respectively.
At the same time, let’s not go overboard on garnishing so you lose what the actual food is!
I hope you can see that you don’t have to spend a lot of time to be oh, so creative. Just give it a little thought and you can make the food look more appealing and more likely to be eaten. It’s worth that little bit of effort.