America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo
Cooking Tips

How to Make a Bowl That Looks as Good as It Tastes

Convenient doesn’t have to mean messy.
By

Published Mar. 15, 2023.

Bowls make convenient meals. Layer up and add a sauce and it’s ready to go. 

But with so many ways to arrange, a bowl of tasty ingredients can look messy and incoherent. Shards of vegetables poking through a heap of rice with a sauce haphazardly poured on top may have you asking yourself, what am I eating? 

Presentation goes a long way in contributing to the enjoyment of food. (You eat with your eyes first, right?) Moving a meal from a plate to a bowl shouldn’t mean sacrificing that excitement you get from digging in to a lovely bite.

Sure, you could toss all the ingredients together and tuck in, but why not make your meal a masterpiece? Here are nine easy ways to make your next bowl look as beautiful as it tastes. 

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

1. Make Piles with Your Ingredients

Section off your bowl toppings into small piles to highlight their colors and textures. Clumping the components together shows off each different element in your bowl.

If your ingredients are similar colors, like the Green Goodness Bowl above, making piles helps show texture for a more eye-catching bite. In our Vegan Brown Rice Burrito Bowl, the contrast of sautéed black beans and charred corn are showcased atop fluffy brown rice. 

2. Garnish with Herbs

Herb leaves can be chopped or torn and sprinkled on top to add an extra pop of color along with fresh flavor. Whole leaves also make for a beautiful presentation that shows off the natural beauty of the herbs. The springy green of cilantro goes well with the darker skin of cucumber in our Rice Noodle Bowl with Pork and Scallions.

3. Shape That Rice

Instead of scooping your rice into the bowl as the base, artfully arrange it into a perfect circle. It looks fancy, but it is so easy—just press it into a measuring cup and then flip it upside down into your bowl. Elevate your next Black Rice Bowl with Salmon by presenting other components around, or on top of, the rice circle.

Meal Prep Made Easy

Bowls

Want to make healthier, low-stress dinners and find meals that can be prepped mostly in advance in an hour or less? Bowls is for you.
Save 21% Now

4. Add Texture

Add toppings with a variety of textures to make your bowl look (and taste!) more interesting. Sprinkle a crunchy element like raw sunflower seeds on top for quick contrast and try out components of different shapes and sizes in the same bowl to add some extra visual appeal. The crunchy shards of pita in the above fattoush salad add visual appeal with craggy edges.

5. Line Things Up

Arrange components in neat rows along your bowl to create a striped effect. Try this technique with fruits such as strawberries and kiwi in our Acai Smoothie Bowl. Or, cut vegetables into semicircles or matchstick-style, like the radishes in our Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Smoked Trout for a completely different effect. You can use your garnish top separate piles of ingredients or create neat lines to easily see each element as we did in the above Shrimp and Grapefruit Salad.

Equipment Review

Cutting Board Stabilizers

Even the best cutting boards slip sometimes. Can these tools help?
Read Our Review

6. Add Color

Fresh fruit and vegetables such as pomegranate, oranges, or dried cranberries can add a whole rainbow of colors to your bowl, making it as visually pleasing as it is appetizing. Try out different colors of common vegetables, such as golden beets or purple cauliflower. Bright cherry tomatoes add a welcome pop of color in an otherwise monochromatic (albeit tasty) Slow-Cooker Southwestern Black Bean and Bulgur Bowls. Above, each element of this eye-catching Salmon Niçoise Bowl is presented in a rainbow array of color for the best visual appeal.

7. Drizzle a Sauce

Use your sauce as a final flourish instead of tossing it all together. Try a zigzag motion to make striking lines, drizzle in a circular pattern to make a sauce spiral, or drop the sauce in polka dots.

We drizzled the dijon vinaigrette on our Tuscan Tuna Salad Bowl for One so that you can see all the ingredients and still enjoy plenty of the dressing. Tangy, spicy sriracha-lime vinaigrette adds color and extra flavor to tofu and bean sprouts in the above Sriracha-Lime Tofu Bowl. The more colorful, the better, to add extra contrast to your finished bowl.

8. Fan Out Slices

Take up space with bright vegetables without losing the beautiful presentation of the meat and toppings like we did with this Thai Steak Salad. Sliced fruits and vegetables such as mango, apple, avocado, or pear also look beautiful arranged in a fan-like shape. Hold one end of the slices together, and then fan the slices outward.

9. Make an Avocado Rose

If your bowl calls for avocado, take a little extra time to make it a showstopping topper. Turn those slices into an avocado rose.

This is a members' feature.