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The New Geometry of the Plate

Photo: Scott Phillips

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Picture the old-fashioned dinner plate: Half is heaped with meat, one-third is taken up by potatoes (or white rice), and the remaining small fraction is left for vegetables. Unfortunately, these proportions haven’t done our health and physical stats any good. The fact is, to be fit and healthy, we need to shift our focus toward more fruits and vegetables and away from refined grains and big hunks of high-fat meats. That’s why it’s time to rethink our plate geometry. By dedicating half of the plate to colorful vegetables, one quarter to lean protein, and the other quarter to whole grains, you can easily put together a better-balanced meal.

Vegetables rule

I tease my husband, Thom, because when he cooks and I ask him what’s for dinner, he says “steak.” And that’s exactly what he’ll serve—a plate of steak with no sides at all. (You’d think he’d pick up a thing or two, living with me for so long.) He might be an extreme example, but his mentality reflects that of many cooks: A meal is mainly about the protein. Sadly, this often means that vegetables are merely an afterthought, and as a result, not very interesting or desirable.

But when you think of vegetables as a major player, as more of a main course than a side, suddenly they merit more attention and creativity. For example, instead of serving a plate of steamed green beans, you can sauté the beans with ginger and garlic or toss them with a Dijon vinaigrette and garnish them with herbs and nuts. Or you can add a variety of spices and fresh herbs to a simple medley of roasted vegetables, as in the recipe opposite.

The other half of the plate

Moving the meat to a supporting role doesn’t mean it’s less important. Protein is essential to life and well-being—we just don’t need it dominating our dinner. Three to four ounces of red meat, fish, or poultry more than covers our protein needs. And don’t forget that beans and tofu contain protein, too.

As for the last quarter of the plate, go for whole grains—they’ve gone from hippy to hip in just a few years. And that’s a good thing, because whole grains—from brown rice and whole-wheat pasta to quinoa, bulgur, and barley—have the fiber and antioxidants you need but don’t spike your blood sugar the way refined grains do.

This meal is an example of how you can re-jigger your plate proportions without leaving your comfort zone. It has all the elements of a traditional dinner: succulent roast pork, rice studded with raisins and walnuts, and subtly spiced roasted vegetables. Only here the rice is whole grain, the pork is lean tenderloin and takes up only a quarter of the plate, and the colorful vegetables claim prime plate real estate. Geometry has never been so much fun.


Coriander-Crusted Pork Good to Know

1. The classic American dinner plate is more of a health liability than an asset: too much high-fat meat and too few vegetables.

2. For a more balanced meal, rethink your plate by dedicating half of the real estate to vegetables.

3. Think of vegetables as a main, not a side—you’ll be inspired to cook them in more interesting ways.

Coriander-Crusted Pork Tenderloin    
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Vegetables   Brown Rice with Walnuts and Golden Raisins
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Vegetables   Brown Rice with Walnuts and Golden Raisins

Photos: Scott Phillips


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  • dollibygolly | 06/28/2010

    I wish I knew what is meant by "roasting program". Please
    explain. Thanks

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