New York Times bestselling author, slow cooking expert and mommy blogger next door
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Totally Together

Food Photography, Realism, and False Advertising

June 22, 2012 by · 13 Comments 

photo credit: Why Photos of McDonald’s Burgers Look So Much Better Than The Real Thing

Are food bloggers and food magazines practicing false advertising when they spend lots and lots of money and time staging finished food photos?

A part of me thinks, No. This is the matter of the business. People need to be lured in by the photo in order to stick around to read the recipe.

But another part of me thinks, Yes. Unless you’ve spent a few hours carefully cutting and assembling and plating and styling a regular ol’ home cook is not going to achieve the same results.

Is that false advertising? Or do home cooks and consumers just acknowledge that’s the way the world works?

What I Really Think.

(hey, I’m a blogger, we’re all just narcissistic navel-grazers, right?)

I don’t think I’ll ever be known as a food photographer. I get an email almost everyday through the slow cooking site by an “up and coming” food stylist/photographer (not the same person, different people— that would be weird if it was the same person every time!) who offers his/her expertise in food photography and styling to make my after photos “more appealing.”

I’ve read *numerous* food photography articles, online and in books. I’ve attended seminars.

but at the end of the day, I’m happy with my current method of pulling the food out of the pot, throwing up a light here and there and taking a picture.

My photos have definitely improved since I began my 2008 year— you can see a marked difference between my January shots and my August shots, and that is because I took Kalyn and Elise’s advice and got a new lens and a tabletop photo studio. We already owned a DSLR.

this is currently the set-up I have which costs a grand total of $608 (amazon affiliate links):

canon rebel, 50 mm lens, and a table top photo studio (note: my set is by Lowel EGO and they don’t seem to have the set I bought 4 years ago for a reasonable price anymore.)

it’s a lot of money.

and I still am not “good enough!”

My big concern with excessive food styling and photography is when the results no longer look the way it would when the home cook recreates the recipe.

I like honesty. I like seeing something and then doing it on my own, at home, and having the same results— regardless of whether or not it’s a recipe, craft, or a DIY project.

This is why I turn to blogs and not magazines. I KNOW magazines have a room full of stylists and lighting directors to get “the perfect shot.” I’ve worked with them. I know what they do.

I know that if I pull my roast out of the pot at 6 hours it will retain it’s shape and photograph better. But it’ll TASTE better at 8 hours, and that’s what picture I’ll snap.

This is where I fall behind my fellow food bloggers. Photography isn’t a hobby of mine; and for many it is— that I understand. What I don’t understand is the desire to style a plate for a few hours by using tweezers to place a sesame seed here or there, or spray a bit of oily water on lettuce to make it shine.

I don’t care if the photo will be “pinned” more. I’ve already written about my concerns with Pinterest.

I’ll repeat myself again: This is real life, not a magazine.

So I ask:

do we as food bloggers want to put out an end result that isn’t achievable by many/most? Do we want that on our conscience?

My friend Jen and I have talked about this quite a bit. She is an actual photographer with way more expensive equipment and expertise than I’ll ever have. She knows how to style and light, but she agrees, as I do, that the extra pageviews aren’t worth compromising integrity. Look at her side-by-side comparison of the Barbie Cocktail making the rounds on pinterest: not cool.

not cool at all.

What To Do About It.

Honestly, what I’d love is there to be a standard understanding that what-you-see-is-what-you-get when it comes to food blogging and photography. I’d love a disclaimer about how many pans of brownies were destroyed trying to get that perfect, no crumbly edge, brownie stack with wax paper. Where did you get the wax paper squares, anyway? How did you measure them out perfectly?

How long did it take you to get that “perfect shot?”

How many times did you say “just a minute” to your kids? How cold was the beef stew when you finally got to eat it? Did you scoop it right from the pot, or did you wash off some of the potatoes and carrots to make them not slimy and place them in a pretty way?

How many photoshop tweaks did you make? Did you improve brightness? contrast? color? did you rub out the slightly burnt corner?

am I making too big of a deal about this?

maybe. probably. but whatever. I was hit hard with the ethics stick. :-)

Meal Planning for Dummies. Or for normal people. Whatever.

February 24, 2009 by · 49 Comments 

updated meal plan I’m a meal planner. I wish I wasn’t sometimes, because having a meal plan attached to the fridge kind of makes me look like an obsessive control freak.

Except. Having a meal plan saves us time and money, and the 10-12 minutes I spend once a week means I’m not obsessing over meals 5-6 times a day, every day.

Last year, I didn’t stick to my meal plan very well. The Crock-Pot slow cooking thing kind of took on a life of it’s own, and I fell behind on planning ahead for anything other than what I needed to slow-cook. Although I knew that this was a temporary problem in our family, I felt floundery (that’s a word, right?). I hated that the kids were climbing into the pantry looking for a snack. I hated that I was often grabbing a bent string cheese at 10am because I had forgotten to eat breakfast. And I hated that since I wasn’t planning out my snacks and meals, I was more susceptible to eating Chocolate Frito Candy and Pound Cake instead of some yogurt and fruit when the afternoon munchies hit.

So. I’m back to meal-planning, and it FEELS GOOD. I get it that it seems controlling and somewhat limiting. I know. I was terribly hesitant to write everything down at first, too. But it works. Kids like and need a routine, and their bodies function better when they have snacks and meals at set times. Guess what? Grown-up bodies seem to like routine, too, and scheduling 5-6 mini meals throughout the day is better than only eating once or twice. Go figure.

Here are some of the things we routinely have/eat in our house:


yogurt, frozen blueberries, granola

frozen pancakes/waffles



baked oatmeal

regular oatmeal

cold cereal with banana and milk

toast with cream cheese, or PB&J


salami and cheese in a tupperware

sandwiches of all varieties (tip: put mayo/mustard in-between the meat to keep the bread from becoming soggy. Also, when making PB&J, put a thin layer of peanut butter on both sides of the bread, and then the jelly in the middle)

string cheese

bananas, apples

carrots and ranch

tortilla chips







chips and hummus


veggies and ranch




my kids will ALWAYS eat plain pasta with butter and parmesan cheese. That is the go-to meal in our house when I don’t think they will eat much of the main dish, or when we’re too busy to make a “real” meal.

baked beans

refried beans

I try hard to have a vegetable of some sort on the table. My kids like: string beans, artichokes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts (I know. I have no idea how this happened.)

Use your slow cooker. Make food the lazy way. Make a big batch of stew, beans, or a pot roast and pick at the food for a few days. Repurpose leftovers. If  I can help it, I try to only cook 3-4 times a week (other than last year. that wasn’t normal for anyone) and then re-use the leftovers in casseroles or as burrito filling.

Here’s an example of meal planning with the crockpot.

and here is a full meal plan with grocery list, and another one!

We are a gluten-free family. Since we have food allergies, we need to plan a bit more ahead than other people need to. It’s not as easy for us (or anyone else monitoring food intake) to order delivery or swing by a fast-food joint.  Because of this, we have been forced to think ahead when making food choices. I do feel that because of this we eat more healthy and are happier in our meals than we were when we just “grabbed something” at the last minute.

Further resources:

meal plan template

itemized grocery list


Want even more? Buy the book! Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life is available now. This handy-dandy weekly planner will hold your hand throughout the year and will give you all the reminders and helpful prods you need to have the Very Best Year, ever. No need to wait for the New Year to start your organization mission, you can start at any time. Enjoy!