It's a meal that could send even the most seasoned eater into a food coma: a creamy chocolate milkshake, served with a juicy sirloin burger and a side of rich truffle fries, followed by a round of gooey mac and cheese with a thick cut of meatloaf and finished by a slice of caramelized pecan pie.Yet this feast fits on a 6-inch plate.In the land of the super-size everything, food portions are going miniature. There are burgers smaller than cupcakes, spring rolls the size of cigarettes and creme brulee cooked in a teaspoon. The National Restaurant Association's "What's Hot" chef survey lists bite-size desserts and hors d'oeuvres among its top trends for 2013.Fast-food purveyors are following suit. The TacoTime chain offers an entire mini meal -- taco, Mexi-fries and a small drink -- for $3.79. In February, "pizza sliders" were added to the menu at Pizza Hut. And last summer, convenience store chain 7-Eleven introduced mini tacos to its hot food menu -- four for $1. "The mini taco is among the top-performing hot foods," said a 7-Eleven spokeswoman, who added that more miniature food items are in the works. She said "it answers a trend" that is expected to last a long time.Mini foods have "certainly gone more mainstream," agreed Aaron Clanton, the baking curriculum manager at the American Institute of Baking in Kansas. "It was kind of niche at first."The trend toward the tiny "takes it roots from the idea of tapas," said Anita Olivarez Eisenhauer, a chef and associate professor in culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Over the past 10 years, Eisenhauer says, there has been a maxi rise of the mini as chefs adopt the Mediterranean diet and cuisine, which emphasizes shared plates and smaller portion sizes.On the popular photo-sharing website Pinterest, Pop-Tarts, caramel apples and beef fajitas -- all in finger-food size -- are among the hundreds of petite food group photos and recipes."The idea of smaller bites enables us to share our food; it invites community to our tables," which has become a stronger trend, said Eisenhauer.To be sure, this trend isn't entirely nouveau. Just ask the French, purveyors of the fashionable and gourmet. Pastry chef Eric Kayser of Paris opened a bakery on New York's Upper East Side last year. Over a plate of petit fours, Maison Kayser's executive pastry chef, Nicolas Chevrieux, sat down to explain the French revolution from the grand to the petite.In 19th-century banquets, Chevrieux said, women were not permitted to eat the same cakes as the king or the men, so chefs made smaller versions for them. Eventually, these gateaus became so small that they were known as the petites tartes aux citrons et framboises of today.Le plaisir de la gourmandise, or the gourmet pleasure, is meant for snacking on during the day, replacing a little chocolate or a handful of chips, he said. Dessert isn't just for after dinner.Of course, mini may be in the eye of the eater."Many of these 'mini' items are the size of regular portions up until the early 1980s, when portion sizes increased dramatically," explained Marion Nestle, a food author and professor in New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health. "A mini bagel is what a bagel used to be. Ditto a mini muffin."Ally Gallop, a registered dietitian in Vancouver, said mini foods are both a diet friend and foe. If a person replaces a regular-size cupcake with a mini, it's a caloric win -- but not if five 100-calorie mini cupcakes are substituted for a single 500-calorie cupcake. Indeed, the multiplicity of mini food, one of its selling points, actually can lead people to eat more overall."Variety does increase how much we'll eat. We're just kind of curious," she said.This affinity for variety is exactly what Dawn Casale, owner of One Girl Cookies in Brooklyn, was hoping for in her line of miniature tea cookies. "I really enjoy tasting a lot of different flavors in a meal," she said. "I thought the same should hold true for dessert."One look at her pastel-infused confectionery and it's no surprise that Casale has a background in high-end retail. She wanted her cookies "to look as pretty and special as a necklace at Barneys," she said.Whether aesthetics, variety or nutrition is the impetus toward the tiny, these small items are part of the forecasted 2013 $18.5 billion snack culture in America, according to a recent Mintel market research report. Snack sales declined during the recession of 2009 and 2010, but are on the rebound. The food-service snack industry, where "mini versions of items have been popular for a few years," is expected to reach $22.9 billion by 2016.But really, it's about pleasure."When we have a plate of petits fours," said Chevrieux, pointing to the tiny pistachio sponge cake made from almond flour and finished with raspberry cream and a meringue-topped miniature lemon tart, "we know that we will please everyone."