6 Ways To Plate Your Food More Beautifully (And Practice Portion Control, Too)

by Elizabeth Keyser, Dlife.com

This article was originally published on dLife.com—a website dedicated to helping people with diabetes live happier and healthier lives—as “The Power Of Plating,” and is reposted with permission from the author.

That old saying, "we eat with our eyes" isn't completely true. Enjoying a meal uses all our senses – smell, taste, and touch as well as sight. But first appearances are important. And it's fun, and surprisingly easy, to add some "top chef" style to make you and your family smile at the dinner table. 

Plating techniques have a sneaky benefit: Portion control.  Beautiful plating is the opposite of heaping a lot of food on the plate. These are dishes that make you slow down and savor.

Here's six key ways to plate your food like a pro:

1. Consider The Plate Your Palette & Your Frame.

Plates and platters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes these days – square, rectangular, oval and traditional round.  They're all good.  Just keep them white. The clean, neutral background sets off food in a simple, uncomplicated way.  Never over-crowd the plate with food or let it spill onto the rim.  Empty space is an important element of design.

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2. Arm Yourself With The Right Equipment.

The three must-have pieces of equipment are already in your kitchen. Along with plates and platters, you need a regular tablespoon. Check your cabinets for small bowls or ramekins and ring molds that will hold half-cup and whole cup servings of grains, vegetables, and fruits. Ring molds can also be used to cut out rounds of fruits and vegetables, like watermelon. Use cookie cutters in smaller shapes.  Optional buys: A squeeze bottle for sauces and long-handled tweezers for precision plating.

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3. How To Lay Out The Sauces:

Sauces can be simple as a salad dressing, flavored vinegar, or a peppery olive oil. Instead of making a cream-based sauce, use yogurt. You can flavor (and color) it by blending herbs into it with an emersion blender. Strain through a fine sieve. Practice drawing a circle of sauce around the outside of a plate. Imagine the plate as a clock. At 12 o'clock, use a tablespoon to lay down a line of sauce in a semi-circle one third of the way around the plate. Turn plate one third to the right, and continue the semi circle of sauce.  Don't worry about drips. They add to the casual artistry.

Nutrition fact: Vinegar reduces blood sugar spikes by blocking carbs from entering the blood stream. Yogurt, a diabetes super food, is filled with friendly bacteria that aids health.

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4. Don't Forget About Garnishes!

There are two rules. One, they must be edible. Think herbs, baby lettuces, seeds (sesame, pomegranate), fruits (berries, small figs), vegetables (tear-drop tomatoes), flowers  (Johnnie Jump-ups, pansies, roses, daylilies not sprayed with pesticides), and salts (Maldon, Pink Himalayan). Rule Two: Less is more. Garnishes are the final flourish to your plate, adding color, texture, flavor, and balance. Remember the white space. Now, let's build a dish.

Nutritional fact: Nuts are a diabetes superfood, and pistachios' minty green color and small size make a go-to garnish. One quarter cup contains 89 g. carbs and 39 g. fiber.

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5. Go Ahead & Play With Your Food.

Use ring molds to build layers of colorful vegetables and fruits in contrasting colors.  For a refreshing tropical appetizer, place a ring mold (first, rub olive oil on the inside surface) in the middle of a plate, then create a layer of cubed avocado within the mold. Tamp lightly with the back of a spoon.  Cover the avocado with thin, overlapping slices of steamed beets, then top with a slice of orange (white pith removed) and/or a slice of peeled kiwi. Carefully slide the ring mold off. Crown with two poached or grilled shrimp.  

Nutritional fact: One cup of cubed avocado contains 13 carbs and 10 g fiber.

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6. Set Up A Salad Like A Stylist.

The trendiest way to serve salads is on long rectangular platters.  Each leaf, fruit, nut and flower stands out in a fairy-scape.  Think contrasting colors, shapes, and how to give height to the plates.  Cubes of watermelon, thin slices of radish, wedges of apple, interspersed with small lettuce leaves, flowers, nuts. Use dabs of soft goat cheese to stand vegetables on their edges.

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