While you’re cooking up your best holiday dishes, use these easy tips and tricks to get the most Instagram-worthy Thanksgiving food ever.

By Sammy Mila
Updated November 18, 2019
Credit: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

It’s that time of year again. The table leaf has been added, the ovens are pre-heated, and the good china is out; it’s time for family and friends to gather around the table and enjoy a gorgeous holiday spread for Thanksgiving dinner. While you’re cooking up your best holiday dishes, use these easy tips and tricks to get the most Instagram-worthy Thanksgiving food ever.

I’m Sammy Mila, a culinary specialist and food stylist for Better Homes & Gardens. I’m the hands in all of our “hands-and-pans” food videos, a professional caramel drizzler, and lover of all things cheesy—jokes included! If you’ve ever watched a BH&G food video, chances are you’ve seen my hands putting together gorgeous dishes—and I’m spilling my best food styling secrets just in time for Thanksgiving.

While working in the food industry for the last seven years, I’ve developed recipes, tested even more recipes, and produced countless food-centered photo and video shoots. A question people always ask me is how to make their food look good for photos, since I spend a good part of my days doing just that. And it’s not as hard as you might think! Use these easy kitchen hacks to make your Thanksgiving dishes totally drool-worthy!

1. Act Natural

A pie with a cracked edge, an ice cream cone that’s starting to melt, or a burger with an onion that fell out—these are all natural culinary occurrences that will give your food photo a bit of personality. When it comes to food photography, natural is always better. Same goes for the environment your dish is in. If there’s a book in the corner or some flour dust, leave it in the frame. It gives your photo some context and provides a realistic feel so your followers don’t think you’re in the neighbor’s garage in front of a south-facing window at sunrise to get the perfect Instagram lighting.

2. Green is Queen

Depending on your recipe, 99 percent of the time you’ll be able to find a green garnish to top your dish, which will instantly make your photo pop. Parsley on top of a stew, basil on top of pasta, mint on top of a sundae—these are all perfect examples of fast and easy garnishes to brighten up a plate. Here’s my best tip: Use whatever greens were used in the recipe. That not only makes your dish look extra fancy, but it can help bring out those flavors in the dish too—I’m all about garnishes serving double-duty! If you don’t have any extra green garnishes lying around, a sprinkle of salt and pepper on savory dishes can also do the trick.

3. Less is More

You don’t need to go all out or buy hundreds of dollars worth of extra ingredients or props to create the perfect photo. The best food photos are ones that keep the focus on the dish—after all, that’s why you’re taking the photo. Keep the background simple while still providing some context. Lay down a patterned kitchen towel or a few ornate forks to create a subtle yet beautiful look.

4. Opposites Attract

When you’re putting your spread together on the table, try to keep like colored dishes separate so your spread feels evenly separated. If you group the green beans, green salad, brussels sprouts and creamed spinach together, your table will be super heavy on the green in one area. Intertwine the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, and cranberry sauce between those green dishes to make your spread look visually balanced—and so no one is forced to sit directly in front of ALL the vegetables!

5. Use What Your Mama Gave Ya

Use what your mama gave you—literally! Holiday meals are the perfect time to bring out the random assortment of dishes and serving platters your mom or other family members have given you over the years. Not everything has to match—actually, I prefer when they don’t! It gives your spread a little more personality and it brings a sense of nostalgia to the dinner table. This technique also makes your food pictures more personal so if someone thinks your photo isn’t legit, you can easily whip out your mom’s old pumpkin shaped serving dish with the leaf print and prove them wrong!

6. Hungry, Hungry, Hippo

My dad is notorious for sneaking a couple bites of any dish before I’m able get a picture. If you have a family member that does this, don’t stress about them ruining your photo. All is not lost, especially because you can easily rotate the dish so the fresh side faces the camera. Or, embrace the fact that it’s already been snacked on and take the photo with a hand digging right into those buttery mashed potatoes. This method works especially well with desserts! If someone decided to sneak a slice of cake before dinner even started, shoot the cake with a slice out to show off the layers and other goodness inside—and if you catch the culprit before they’ve completely devoured their portion, stick the extra piece on a plate and add it to the photo out to really emphasize the “yum” factor!

I love creating delicious and beautiful dishes for Better Homes & Gardens and I hope these tips will help you make your holiday spread picture perfect! Wishing you all the best—and the best of luck with your culinary adventures—this holiday season. Don’t forget to show us what you create by using #bhghowiholiday on your best photos. Happy cooking, friends!

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