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A study appearing in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that if other foods were presented in McDonald’s wrappers young children actually liked them better than when the same foods were presented without the wrapper (e.g., hamburger to hamburger). In another study that appeared in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association researchers found that when escalloped potatoes or stuffed shells offered in a college cafeteria looked dry the students didn’t select them as often, indicating that the appearance of food influences food choice. Makes sense — who wants to eat dry-looking food?

Another study, conducted by Gil Morrot and colleagues and reported in the journal Brain and Language, set up a wine tasting for 54 undergraduates from the faculty of Oenology of the

University of Bordeaux. When the researchers artificially colored white wine with an odorless dye to look red, the panel of soon-to-be wine connoisseurs described its aroma as that of red wine.

The problem is that when most people start to cook healthier, the food looks bland — and if a food looks uninteresting there is a high likelihood that it will be perceived as tasting uninteresting. Here are a few tips from top food stylists for making healthier foods look more appealing.

Garnish: Here are some garnishing suggestions from Sarah Thompson, food stylist for the Taste of Home Cookbook, Cooks who Care Edition.

Bundle matchstick-cut veggies such as carrots, red and yellow peppers and zucchini together; wrap them with a strip of green onion and carefully tie it into a knot. Then steam the bundles in a skillet with a little chicken broth, water or wine.

Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over salad greens or yogurt for a great shot of color and added sweet-tartness. Fresh currants also offer a pop of color, and bright orange kumquats make a nice garnish for both entrees and desserts.

Fresh herbs are a garnishing staple. In sprigs or minced, for either sweet or savory recipes, herbs are a go-to garnish that makes everything look more presentable. Celery leaves are a quick and economical garnish. Once you’ve chopped the stalks, keep the leaves in a small bowl of water in the fridge.

Add Color: When planning your meal think about the colors of the components. When the food on your plate is all one color — particularly if it’s white or beige — it looks a lot less appealing. Add a punch of color with red, yellow and green peppers, red and orange beets, yellow and green winter and summer squashes. Carrots also come in yellow, purple and orange, and string beans can be purple, yellow or green. Tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. All of these enhance the visual palette of the plate said Jean Galton, a Seattle chef and food stylist, (jeangalton.com). Also, use a sprig of fresh dill or parsley on your plate. Or hollow out a sweet red, green, yellow or orange bell pepper as a container for a veggie dip.

When steaming/

blanching vegetables, it is always important to undercook them slightly, and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process and keep the beautiful, natural color of the vegetable intact. Overcooked vegetables will be dull and soggy looking, said Pam Sorin, a food stylist and recipe developer in New York.

Shape and Texture: Consider the textures and colors of various grains and beans (polenta, farro, buckwheat, quinoa and the entire variety of dried beans), as well as seeds (sesame, poppy, pumpkin, flax). Try rice and soba noodles, and don’t forget whole-grain pastas extruded in interesting shapes. When there’s more than one texture and/or color on the plate, the food looks more interesting and inviting.

Plating: You often hear chefs talk about the importance of how they “plate” their food. Don’t just throw your food on a plate. Even if you’re eating alone, arrange your plate attractively, and never use paper plates. Even if you’re having a frozen dinner, make sure to put the food on a plate.

Plain white china makes food look more attractive, because the colors of the food aren’t fighting with the pattern on the plate.

When serving chicken or turkey breasts or boneless pork chops, cut them at a slight angle into an odd number of slices and fan them out on a serving platter or individual plates, said Thompson. By doing this you fill the plate, making the portion look larger so that you feel you’re getting more food.

Make it Flat: Flattening boneless, skinless chicken breasts makes them larger, making you feel like you’re eating a heartier portion — when you’re not, said Thompson. It also makes them thinner, which reduces cooking time. 

CHARLES STUART PLATKIN, Ph.D., is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com. Copyright 2011 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.DietDetective.com

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