Small Plates, Big Benefits

January 2, 2024
Small plates! Whatever you call them: tapas, cicchetti, dim sum, meze, or something else, small plates deliver big flavor – and big benefits! I have to believe there is at least one moment in everyone’s life when they say, “I could make a meal of just the appetizers.” There is not only truth to that declaration, there is wisdom. There are so many reasons to love small plates.
Adventurous eaters are happy and tentative eaters don’t have to make a huge commitment to a full meal they may not like. In either camp, our taste buds won’t get bored. We can delight in really different textures and flavors without having to stick to one type of preparation or regional cuisine profile for the entire dining experience. We can have a couple of tried-and-true favorites and try a novel, exotic dish or two in the same meal. Consider theming your next small plates experience – or take a culinary trip around the globe, one small plate at a time.
Small plates lend themselves to communal dining experiences and conviviality. Conversations can be more engaging during a small plate meal because people discuss and share dishes rather than just eating in relative silence. Plus, small plates tend to be thoughtfully constructed and visually stunning – that alone provides plenty to talk about. The livelier the interaction, the slower the eating pace. The more leisurely the consumption, the better the digestion. It’s all good!
Quality (not quantity)
We can use luxurious ingredients without breaking the bank. Even if there are just two people partaking in a meal, there is a big difference between the cost of two whole lobsters and a modest container of lobster tail and claw meat (which would be lovely arranged on single leaves of endive drizzled with savory Pistachio Pesto with EVOO and garnished with fennel fronds). Expensive ingredients can be cost effectively parsed out in simple, delicious, and decadent preparations. No one will feel deprived. Luxe without the bucks!
Portion Control
Mindful eating is not as much of a challenge when beautifully prepared bites are eaten at a pleasant pace. A large meal, often dictated by a specific protein and starch combination with a certain number of sides presents more of a challenge than a journey. (Most portions contain much more than what constitutes a serving.) Cognizant enjoyment actually helps us slow our consumption in a way that lets our fullness level and satiation level register. If we devote enough time to the actual act of eating, our bodies will let us know we are full, and our propensity to overeat greatly diminishes. Keep this in mind for desserts as well. Often our sweet finishers are scrutinized for high caloric content. However, presented as glorious mini bites as opposed to massive monoliths, we can partake in all of the pleasure without all of the guilt.
Less Waste (and possibly Less Waist…)
A large meal may end up as leftovers (and if that is your thing, fantastic!). But if it ends up as garbage, that is an issue. Food waste is a solvable problem. There are hungry people, hungry families, hungry children in every country, every state in the U.S., every neighborhood. Wasting food in the face of such need should be unimaginable, but it is real. Here are just a few statistics to ponder:

- US restaurants generate an estimated 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste each year. A large part of this is a result of oversized portions. Small plates allow restaurants to utilize ingredients that would usually be considered waste, thus helping in reducing food waste to a large extent.

- Small plates also mean that people who prepare food – whether they are chefs or home cooks - can be more focused on high-quality dishes, not only in terms of taste but also presentation. Small plates are also beneficial because they help reduce food inventory and losses from spoilage in the industry and at home.

- On average, the U.S. wastes an estimated 125 to 150 billion pounds of food every year. Where does it all end up? In a landfill, where it’s buried under mounds of toxic trash and eventually breaks down and emits methane. So much organic waste is buried that landfills are now the third largest source of climate-damaging methane emissions in the U.S.

And to address the potential for “less waist” – smaller portions allow our bodies to process the food we eat immediately as energy instead of storing excess as fat. According to a new paper published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, a trick to keeping your weight in check is in the (small) dinner plate. Researchers looked at 56 studies to investigate whether plate size affected how much people ate. They found that participants consumed less food when using small plates, especially when serving themselves. Just by halving the plate size, participants ate an average of one-third less than they would normally.
Whether you prefer to order small plates at your favorite restaurants or prepare them in your own home, consider doing more of same. They may be small, but they are mighty!

For other small plates ideas, check out our recipes for:
- Eggplant Parmesan
- Moroccan Chicken Wings
- Croatian Cevapcici with Ajvar
- Tabbouleh with Pomegranate
- Feta Cheese Fete

And remember, almost any main course can be turned into a small plate by reducing portion size and creating individual bites. Have fun!

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