How to Design a Meal

Love and Lemons

For the next installment in our Healthy & Whole series, we’re honored to bring you this post from our friend Jeanine from Love and Lemons. Jeanine has been a source of encouragement and inspiration over the past few years, both in her fabulous design aesthetic and inventive recipes. She helped us with our kitchen design, and has been a constant supportive friend. This year, we were stoked when she was honored by Saveur as Best Cooking Blog: something we’ve known all along! Since Jeanine’s blog is known for its eye-catching aesthetic, we caught up with her here to ask how she goes about designing a meal. We believe that everyone is an artist inside, no matter how un-creative you feel — and hope this will help inspire you to explore your creative side in the kitchen!

I’m a visual thinker through and through. I truly believe we eat with our eyes first – but this isn’t a post about food styling or photography. Today I’m sharing a few ideas about my approach to food, which is generally inspired by some of the basic elements and principles of design. Here are just a few tips and tricks that I use to get my creative (green) juices flowing:

Shape
There’s a reason kid food often comes in the shape of animals and cartoon characters. Eating shapes is fun (animals not so much for me…) and shouldn’t be reserved only for kids. Are you bored of your afternoon smoothie? Freeze it into little cups and enjoy a healthy popsicle treat instead.

Form
When I’m staring into my fridge trying to make dinner out of leftover ingredients, I often think about form. Can yesterday’s salad become today’s pizza topping? Can those frozen veggies and some leftover cheeses become a fancy frittata? Remember – it’s the flavors that make a food taste good, so have fun taking some dishes apart and putting them back together again. One day these leftover peanut noodles became the next afternoon’s spring rolls.

Love and Lemons

Color
I’m not a trained nutritionist, but I know that eating colorfully is not only visually appealing but it’s the best way to ensure you’re getting a variety of vitamins and nutrients. We’re drawn to brightly colored natural foods for a reason (and its sadly the reason all junk foods are bright, too…) These colorful collard wraps cover at least a few of your bases: green (vitamin B and photonutrients), orange (vitamin C and folate), and red (lycopene).

Value (Lights and Darks)
When pairing ingredients, it’s sometimes a fun creative exercise to limit my options to just one color: both for the challenge, and to surprise peoples’ palates when they taste so much variety from a single color. For example, this matcha mint tea is made of 3 ingredients in 3 different shades of green. Each brings a unique flavor. And oddly enough, color matching works out more often than you’d think…

Texture & Contrast
“Lettuce” be honest – salads can be extremely boring, but by using a variety of textures and contrasting flavors, they can be amazing. I like to combine ingredients that are crisp or crunchy with those that are soft and creamy. And I almost always pair something salty with something sweet. Opposites attract in all manners of life. This refreshing watermelon salad combines sweet crisp watermelon with salty feta and creamy avocado.

Love and Lemons

Repetition
Who says variety is the spice of life? Try slicing different vegetables into similar shapes. This eggplant tian is really nothing more than baked eggplant and squash, but the flavors (and visual enticement) are elevated because of repetition.

Balance
Like life, healthy eating is all about the balance and (in my book) not at all about depriving yourself of anything. Every now and then, a girl needs a cocktail or a cupcake.

Healthy & Whole Series
Intro
Slowing Down
Be Bold
Get Inspired
What We Eat
On Food and Guilt
On Food and Judgement
Eat Mindfully
From Inspiration to Recipe
On Food and Money
All Things in Moderation
Emotionally Healthy Eating

And more!

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

8 Comments

  • Reply
    Kathryn
    May 30, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    This is *such* a great post. I have absolutely no eye at all and I’m always super impressed by Jeanine’s gorgeous plates of food so to learn some of her tricks is totally brilliant.

  • Reply
    Rosie @The Porridge Pot
    May 31, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Some of my favorite ways to structure my meals!

  • Reply
    Katie @ Whole Nourishment
    June 1, 2014 at 2:09 am

    I am also a fan of Jeanine’s blog and recipes, and I was excited to read her interview! Love that she says we’re all artists in a way and can all be creative as well as the information she give about thinking of the value, texture, and contrast of foods. Great perspectives. Thanks Sonja, Alex, and Jeanine!

  • Reply
    molly yeh
    June 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    LOVE THIS! now i want a smoothie popsicle!!!

  • Reply
    Jaenell
    June 3, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Great post! Now that I think about it, I’m definitely a textural eater – I love mixing crunchy with creamy, especially in salads. Such a creative way to think about putting together healthy meals!

  • Reply
    Angela @ Canned Time
    June 7, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    So, so true Jeanine! I truly eat with my eyes and that’s why your ‘Love & Lemons’ is so, so inspiring! Those spring rolls couldn’t be more appetizing just from their fresh look and colors. Great thoughts and advise.
    Thanks Sonja and Alex for your own inspirations as well!

  • Reply
    John @ Garage Gyms
    June 9, 2014 at 11:16 am

    I dig this post. I’ve heard that about eating colorful dishes as well. Good stuff, thanks! =)

  • Reply
    Amy
    June 13, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    This is a really nice way to think about preparing meals – and also really practical, with using up leftovers etc.
    This summer I’m going to try and work more colour into my meals. Thanks for the inspiration!

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