When I dine out, nothing excites me more than an exquisitely presented five-star dish that makes me whip out my phone and take a snap (much to my boyfriend’s dismay). At home, it’s a different story—I’m lucky to have time to throw some greens into Tupperware that, trust me, does not look camera-ready. And, that’s where Pinterest comes in. My board is overflowing with layered popsicles, edible flower creations, and rainbow everything. If only I could eat like this in real life, I thought. Wouldn’t that be nice?
So, tired of pinning popsicle after popsicle but schlepping around my sad Tupperware salad every day, I decided it was time to bridge the gap between my Pinterest plate and lunch plate. The challenge: I would ditch the salad and prepare my favorite Pinterest recipes for all my meals for one full day. At first, it sounded like the best challenge ever (should I make a green smoothie bowl or matcha latte?), until I printed out the not-so-simple ingredient list. Here’s what really happens when you eat picture-perfect meals for an entire day.
The Pinterest Recipe: Green superfood smoothie bowl
The Recipe IRL: I’ll admit that breakfast ranks at the end of my priority list in the morning—I usually grab a banana and coffee on my way to the office and eat at my desk. As a former health writer, I realize how bad that is for my energy levels throughout the day, so I optimistically decided to whip up this nutrient-packed smoothie bowl before work.
First things first: the ingredient list. I wandered into Whole Foods with a list that would normally cover my total meals for the week. The topping suggestions were just as lengthy as the actual smoothie ingredients. I realized that since this recipe is for Pinterest, presentation was everything.
Thankfully, the recipe itself took moments to make. The four-minute prep time promise was surprisingly spot on and after tossing all the ingredients in a blender, I was done. Most of my time went to decorating the smoothie bowl. Banana slices had to be positioned just so, and I was careful to sprinkle chia seeds and coconut flakes sparingly—just like in the image. The end result was gorgeous and tasted as good as it looked. If I made this meal every morning I’d never arrive to work on time, but it did make for an impressive Instagram if I say so myself.
The Pinterest Recipe: Nori roll with cucumber and avocado
The Recipe IRL: My Pinterest board is filled with recipe hacks that seem so simple I wondered why I had never tried them, like this paleo sushi recipe that swaps out carbohydrate-rich rice for cucumber. Sounds easy enough, right?
One of the main functions of rice is to act as a sticking agent to bind the seaweed and filling. Years spent making sushi from scratch with constant nagging and pro tips from my Japanese dad made me a bit suspicious of this recipe. As someone who’s done this countless times before, I wondered, Without rice, how will the roll stay together? The answer: Poorly. After thinly slicing the cucumber and arranging it on the nori sheet like scales, I realized this just won’t work. A few dismal attempts later, I ended up just eating bland cucumber and seaweed separately. It turns out, some traditional recipes are popular for a reason. On a side note, the rolls that did manage to remain somewhat intact were soggy after an hour—not ideal for a packed lunch.
The Pinterest Recipe: Cucumber and pineapple shrimp tacos
The Recipe IRL: My home is rarely without guests, and the day of this Pinterest challenge I was expecting a group around to eat dinner and watch Hulu (Game of Thrones, need you ask). Resisting Seamless, I chose this straightforward taco recipe for fuss-free share food. I had to prep the meal before friends arrived (being stuck in the kitchen when the episode starts is my idea of a nightmare) and it took a mere 15 minutes.
After grilling the shrimp, warming the tortillas, and dicing the cucumber and pineapple salsa, I was done in record time. The assembled meal wasn’t quite as picturesque as the Pinterest images promised, but the speedy prep time and flavor made up for it tenfold.
The Pinterest Recipe: Earl Grey latte pops
The Recipe IRL: If there’s one type of Pinterest recipe that gets me every time, it’s popsicles. Boozy, flower-infused, fruity, or dipped in a glass of champagne, they always look like the perfect entertaining idea.
Recipes often fail to mention that popsicles involving multiple layers take hours to prepare. You have to freeze each layer before you move onto the next, kind of like how you have to wait for coat of nail polish to dry before moving onto the next ombré shade. Thankfully, I decided to make these in advance. The process is super simple, albeit time-consuming: After infusing tea in water and sweetening the mixture with agave syrup or honey, you pour a small amount into popsicle molds and freeze them until the layer is set. Then, alternate the mixture with coconut milk to create a pinstripe-like design. It took me an hour per layer, meaning the entire process was a six-hour saga. Never. Again.
By the end of the day, I was completely spent. And licking the tea-flavored popsicle didn’t help.
Four Pinterest-approved recipes involved over seven hours of preparation, well beyond my cooking threshold for a week, let alone a day. Admittedly, each recipe opened my mind to a new flavor combination I wouldn’t have considered before (who knew pineapple and cucumber paired so well?). My pantry is also stocked with a ton of healthy ingredients, which will make a second effort much easier. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from 24 hours of picture-perfect recipes though it’s this: Social media can make us crave photogenic food or feel like our stock-standard recipes are sub-par, but good looks are just a small part of a great recipe. And personally, I’d take a delicious meal over a pretty picture any day.