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Small Plates? Just a Myth
Just last month I reported on a study that concluded that children will eat more when presented with a larger amount of food (News Bite, 8/1/07). Another study seemed to show that using a larger bowl (or plate, presumably) would result in serving and eating more than if a regular-sized bowl is used (10/6/06). These studies seem to shore up the widely-held belief that using smaller plates will help you eat less.
Weigh and Measure Your Food
A recent study in Japan investigated our ability to estimate amounts of food based on appearance (Appetite 2007;49(1):183-190). Noting that two types of food, soft food or hard food, might be estimated differently, the scientists selected raw carrots as their sample hard food and surimi gel (ground fish) as a sample of softer food.
Fool yourself with plate design
Researchers have been experimenting with the plates we eat from for a while. Back in 2006 I told you about a study in which nutrition experts where given two different sizes of bowls and spoons and were invited to serve themselves ice cream. Even though they probably should have known better, those with the larger bowls and spoons served themselves more ice cream and ate more than those with the smaller bowls and spoons.
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Professional chefs agree: presentation matters. That's why you'll see them carefully arranging the food on the plate for best effect, then wiping off any drips or drabs that may fall on the edge of the plate.
Food researchers have long known that the color of foods, particularly beverages, can affect people's perception of flavor: for example, white wine that's been colored red is perceived as tasting like red wine. Foods that are artificially colored in bizarre or inappropriate ways are judged to taste differently than the same foods without the artificial coloring. Accordingly, researchers at Montclair State University in New Jersey wondered if a food's plated presentation would affect whether a person liked the food (Appetite 2011;57(3):642-648) and performed three different studies to look at different aspects of food's presentation.
The first study involved the concept of "balance" and the food tested was a name brand red pepper hummus, presented on a lettuce leaf with pita chips, baby carrots and grape tomatoes. A "balanced" presentation placed the lettuce leaf in the center of the plate with the hummus centered on the lettuce leaf and the accompaniments evenly distributed around it. An "unbalanced" presentation placed the lettuce leaf to one side of the plate with the hummus and accompaniments dumped on top.
Forty-three college student volunteers were randomly assigned to either the "balanced" group or the "unbalanced" group and received a hummus plate arranged in those formats. They were asked to rate the attractiveness of the meal, then before tasting the hummus they were asked to rate how willing they were to eat it. Finally, after tasting the hummus they were asked to rate how much they liked it. Although both groups rated the two plate styles about the same with regard to attractiveness and their willingness to taste the food, those who received the balanced plates rated their hummus as much better tasting than those who ate from the unbalanced plates.
Another, similar study involved "messiness" versus "neatness." The same name brand chicken salad was presented in two different ways: on a centered lettuce leaf in a neatly rounded pile, or on a centered lettuce leaf in an indifferently-placed scoop. A group of 31 college students, none of whom had participated in the hummus study, rated the salad on attractiveness, how willing they were to eat it, and how much they liked it. Once again, those who ate from the "neat" presentations rated their chicken salad as tasting much better than those who ate from the "messy" plates.
Finally, 24 college students who had not participated in the two previous studies were presented with color photographs, presented in random order, of the four plates used in the previous studies. They were then asked five questions:
Unsurprisingly, the participants indicated that they felt they would enjoy the neater plates more than the messy plates, were willing to pay more for the neater plates, and believed that the neat plates were from a nicer restaurant that took more care with its food than the messy plates. With regard to contamination, however, the subjects were more concerned about contamination when it came to chicken salad: messy chicken salad was judged to be far more likely to be contaminated than the equally messy hummus. Interestingly, the foods presented more neatly were also expected to taste better (although the subjects in this study did not actually taste the food).
Clearly, presentation matters in how much you enjoy your food. Take the time to plate your dinner attractively: caring about how your food is presented may be sending unconscious signals of quality and value. Food is such an important part of our lives - take time to enjoy it!
First posted: September 21, 2011