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How many dinner sides do you usually prepare?

Sorry If this has been posted--- I've looked but can't find quite what I want.

How many sides for dinner do you usually prepare? Or how do you decide what to fix with what ever your main dish is?

Growing up my mom always did a meat and three type thing. Now that I'm grown I find myself reverting back to that even though I don't necessarily want too. I'm in a cooking rut and can't get out!!

Also-- When you prepare a heavier/substantial side dish what is your usual entree pairing?

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  1. When my immediate family (husband, children, mother) were here we were five. Now that everyone has dispersed to different places it's just my husband and I. Then I would cook a main, and 2 or 3 side dishes, plus a salad. Sometimes I served a bread basket but more often didn't, especially if I were serving a starch. The sides were vegetables such as beets, greens, squashes, and then a second dish such as potatoes, rice, beans. If I were cooking a macaroni dish I would serve only a salad with it. (I usually made a meat-less sauce, and still do.)

    Now I usually serve a main and one vegetable and sometimes a third dish or salad. We like to cook different Asian cuisines and then there might be several different dishes as time allows but always rice or noodles. But, the majority of our meals are "Italian" since that's my heritage. My side dishes are not "heavier" than the main dish.

    I don't really have a set of rules for planning the menu, but tend to make my meals vegetable-centric. Lots of vegetables and much less meat. I believe side dishes should enhance or compliment the main dish, not compete with it, but that's just me.

    Cooking food that your family likes to eat but trying to keep it healthy and nutritious can be a chore but it can be fun too because there's so many different fruits and vegetables to discover. It's also fun to experiment...

    1. We have anywhere from 0 to 5. If it is a special chicken soup, or beef stew (one pot meals) then nothing.
      Tonight Chicken parts on the bbq, some black beans, rice , a relish of onions, tomato, lime juice & EVOO...so that is 3 sides.
      Three factors go into my our decision when considering sides:
      What is in the house?
      What is the cuisine of the night?
      How much time do we have to shop and prepare?

      When I get into a cooking rut, I will go back to things I have not made in a long time. Such as breakfast for dinner. Wraps or tacos with left over proteins in the fridge or freezer, nothing too facny, even some frozen ravoli with a quick marinara meatless sauce with a green salad. This helps so I can get my mojo back..at least for me!

      1. Usually a carb plus one or two vegetables.

        But it's obviously dependent on the cuisine or style that we're cooking.

        How to decide what to cook? Generally speaking, we like to cook locally grown, seasonal vegetables. Get's to be a challenge during the winter in our climate. And in the summer as well, sometimes.

        1. Short answer: Fewer and fewer. Partly this came from noticing that the Italian Pranzo (sequence of courses) has only one Contourni (side dish), partly from going low-carb, obviating the need for starch. Occasionally, I will cook two side dishes if one is easy to cook, but mostly I cook one green veg and plenty of it. And flavor it highly (Parmesan, herbs) so it not a dreary green obligation.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mwhitmore

            We are low-carb too, so we tend to do the same thing - meat is the centerpiece, with one or two vegetable sides (which are sometimes really part of the main - i.e. steak caesar salad, mapo tofu over broccoli, etc.).

            1. re: biondanonima

              Here too, my meals are usually a heaping dose of meat with a near heaping dose of a vegetable side or as you mentioned part of the dish - tuna steaks on sauteed spinach, chicken and asparagus stir fry. If not part of a dish I usually pick a favorite veg and prep which suits whatever meat I'm cooking. If something is going in the oven it's usually with roasted asparagus or broccoli, string beans and collards for long slow prep meals, etc.

          2. Our dinner typically has servings of one animal protein (but not always), one starch, and one green/non-starchy vegetable, Alhough that often means that there are 2 side dishes, alongside a meat/fish protein main dish, that is not always the case since sometimes one or more of those items are combined into a single dish. For example, sometimes I'll cook risotto, which will be the only dish served, as it includes mushrooms, a green vegetable (asparagus, green beans, or broccoli), and shrimp. Or, we might have a mac & cheese, with ham "main dish", and a tossed green salad on the side. Or stew or a hearty soup, which combines items from all of those food groups. Last night, along side poached fish, I served a single side that was a "medley" of potatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, and red peppers -- i.e., the starch and "green" vegetables in a single side dish. And, sometimes there will be more than 2 sides -- e.g., we'll serve applesauce or sautéed mushrooms, as an additional side, besides a starch and a green vegetable.

            1. For home cooking (just me and my husband) I have 3 types of menus: One pot meals (soup or chili or casserole) or protein/starch/veg or stir fry/rice or noodles.

              One pot meals are loaded with vegetables in my house, so they may get served with a starch (bread or tortillas or rice) or maybe nothing at all if they have a starch as well. Maybe garnishes like salsa or chopped parsley/green onions or sour cream.

              The protein/starch/veg is usually something like grilled salmon (my husband grills) and rice pilaf and steamed asparagus. Or pan sauteed chicken breast with mashed potatoes and a salad on the side.

              I figure that with one cook (me) and one dishwasher (my husband) we can keep it simple and still have tasty food and decent nutrition.

              1 Reply
              1. re: dkenworthy

                I cook basically the same dken, with the exception of never having bread with a meal, even as the starch.


              2. Although I tend towards a protein and a starch and a "leafy green vegetable," I'll sometimes eliminate the starch and make the greens bigger and better.

                1. I don't divide up my meals between "mains" and "sides".

                  I prepare things I want to eat. Then eat them.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    So you might have a steak and a piece of fish and nothing else?

                    1. re: c oliver

                      If that's what tickles my fancy that moment? Yes.

                      My meal last Monday? Cereal from a box, Diet Coke and a Fuji apple.

                      Dinner last night (Sunday). Kale omelet and pan-fried sea bass.

                      Put a gun to my head, and I couldn't be able to tell you which one of any of those things were "mains" or "sides". Could you?

                      And growing up, we ate family style. My mom would make various dishes -- e.g. stir-fried spinach, steamed fish, etc. -- and none were "mains" or "sides". I suppose the only thing that might be a "side" would be rice, but because it was a staple, I think calling it a "side" would be a misnomer.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I can tell you what was your side...It was the Diet Coke!..not protein, not starch, definitely not a veggie...(lol)

                    2. Usually 0-2 sides. Depends on the meal. I like to do skillet/one-pot meals that include all components, so like it'll be meat, pasta, veggies, or meat, rice, veggies. I don't do sides with that kind of thing. I *try* to have veggies at every meal though. If I do a starch side it's usually some kind of potatoes or rice... very rarely bread. I have a few sides I make w/ orzo pasta.

                      I very rarely will make a substantial side dish, as both SO and I much favor larger meat portions.

                      1. It depends on the meal, but usually 2. We usually have brown rice or some other carb as a foundation of the meal, so it's usually some sort of protein and maybe another vegetable carb source or 2.

                        1. My parents usually fed us on a main, a starch and 2 sides. I'm low carb now so I avoid the starch, but my ideal is still a main and two sides. Work/life being what it is, I have that a hard goal to achieve at times and find myself eating one pot meals more often than not that incorporate a variety of vegetables and protein in one healthy dish. Alternatively if I have time to make a main and a side, I might supplement with an additional side from the preserved vegetables I usually have around (e.g. kimchi, makdous, various pickled vegetables, escabeche, etc.).

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JungMann

                            I am much the same, a main and two sides (not necessarily a carb) or a one pot veggie/protein combo. I often make something we can eat all week - veg slaw, kimchi, this week it's a celery salad thing - that will be one side for the whole week.

                          2. Oh gosh I'm boring! It's a main and some kind of veggie. Then a dessert. Always.

                            The only exception is that if the main is something really low cal (like a piece of grilled salmon or something), I'll usually add something else along with the veggies - maybe rice or something like that.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: jbsiegel

                              I think the dessert consideration is interesting. In our house, we rarely had dessert or considered it a formal part of the meal but I know tons of families in which the meal is not complete without a dessert included. I never think of meal prep with a dessert course, but this could be because I'm not a big fan of sweets. SO has to remind me that the rest of the world often expects a sugary finish.

                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                Growing up, we didn't always have some super-sugary dessert. Lots of times it was a piece of fruit or something like that. My mom was a huge fan of half grapefruits with a maraschino cherry in the middle LOL! Homemade applesauce was another common one.

                                For some reason, though, now I feel like I have to give my kids something sugary after dinner. I know it's not necessary, and we NEVER order dessert when we go out, but I always put something out there. It's not something huge...probably something in the 100-200 calorie range...just a sweet treat.

                                1. re: jbsiegel

                                  My mom always prepared grapefruit halves as the appetizer in the winter months, which was the only time they were available. Every day. No appetizers in other seasons. No maraschino, alas. Almost every meal had applesauce or cranberry sauce as a condiment. There was always meat, poultry, or fish, a starch, and another vegetable. Sometimes a green salad in place of the vegetable.

                                  I understand that this is German tradition: there was never dessert for lunch, but always a mid-afternoon baked sweet.
                                  There was no dessert with dinner, but always something sweet two hours later. A good thing, I think, since it meant no evening snack was necessary.

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    Damn no maraschinos!...I guess you never had a Shirley Temple at home either. :-{

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      My grandmother taught me brûléed grapefruit with brown sugar, still a favorite.

                                    2. re: jbsiegel

                                      Yea, when I do have something sweet after dinner it's fruit, so refreshing but I perfectly understand the idea of a finisher and fruit is so light and refreshing that it's great.

                                      1. re: jbsiegel

                                        Growing up we had fruit for "dessert" every night, and real dessert on Saturday (often ice cream) and Sunday (usually fancier, like a cake or pie, after a big Sunday dinner) but only if we ate our veggies ;)

                                      2. re: fldhkybnva

                                        the only times i plan a "dessert course" are when having company (friends over or a small party or family gathering) or a special occasion (like OH's birthday or celebration). he always has something sweet, be it fruit or homemade lemon ice (or cookie dough when he's being not so healthy), but very seldom planned as an actual course.

                                    3. KellyD123, I usually have a salad, plus a couple of colorful (hot) veggies on the plate. Last night it was chicken breast, turnip, spinach, and a little arugula/walnut/feta salad,

                                      But this isn't a hard-and-fast rule. If I have a substantial side (like a biiigggg salad), the protein becomes a salad topping, and the salad becomes the main. Know what I mean? No rules (except for my house, we need to do low carb for health reasons).

                                      1. If it's not a one dish meal I try to make the plate 2/3 non-starchy veggies (I eat very low carb, under 30g a day.) No grains or breads. Sometimes it's 2 or 3 different veggies, sometimes it's all one.

                                        1. My rule of thumb --minimum
                                          1 protein -- 2 veg -- 1 starch
                                          and no repeated colours. I don't do any bread unless it's a really planned meal.

                                          My mom was hypercritical of "other people" who thought of starches as vegetables, so growing up if we had peas or corn they weren't the veg. We also never had dessert or fruit with meals.

                                          Colours-- I had a through-the-wall neighbor when we lived in military housing who never repeated a color at dinner and almost never served white foods. I think that's a worthy goal, but it's tough!!

                                          One Thanksgiving in Beijing, I did a rainbow meal. 2 each for ROYG"BIV" plus "white" turkey and mashed potatoes and Brown- stuffing and dressing.The Blue-Indigo-Violet were realllllllllllllly hard, even though I treated it as one colour.

                                          If I have a Heavier Side, I try to go for a main that isn't heavily sauced and automatically paired with the starch. And so so many HS have cheese or can have shredded chicken mixed in that I often stop to decide if the HS should become the protein.

                                          1. Two sides, one starch, the other vegetable or sometimes 2 vegetables to go with either meat or seafood. If the entree is pasta (my wife is of Italian descent), then it is a side of salad.

                                            1. Usually I will make one main protein dish and 1 vegetable side. If I serve rice/ potato and a main dish I will also have one vegetable. If I make pasta with meat sauce I serve a salad as the vegetable. If I serve soup as the main dish I might serve a salad as the vegetable, or sometimes nothing else but some bread. I guess to sum it up, mostly one vegetable side. I also pay attention to colors on the plate, I do not like monochrome dinners. And only consider serving bread if dinner main is soup, salad, pasta, stew, or chili.

                                              1. These days, my weeknight menu is pretty much the same due to work. Fish, usually tilapia or monkfish, or some other sort of fish. Because Frenchman loves his baguettes ever-so-much, he'll pick one up most days. I, unfortunately, cannot eat bread every night. I'll do a cous-cous, and a veg and a salad.
                                                That's about it.
                                                On the weekends--I cook. A lot! We have the aperitif, then the entree, then the main plate, then cheese, then a bit of dessert.

                                                1. Although I, of course, fuss more when entertaining than when we are just having a normal dinner at home, the specific courses served are always the same.
                                                  1) Starter...usually a salad, but occasionally a light soup.
                                                  2) Entree which could be: meat, chicken or fish + 2 sides (one of which is usually a starch), or a pasta, hearty soup or stew, usually with no side, or a stir-fry with only rice as a side.
                                                  3) Dessert which during the week is rarely more than fruit, cheese or ice cream. On the weekend, or for guests, I'm usually a bit more ambitious, although it might be purchased from a local French bakery which does wonderful fruit tarts, etc.

                                                  1. For every day meals it is usually 2-a starch and a veggie but it really depends on what I am serving. Make your own taco/burrito night has 4-5 add ons but no real sides. Lasagna might only have a salad on some nights or a salad and garlic bread on another.

                                                    For holiday meals we average about 5-6 sides.

                                                    Dinner party (fancy/formal) might have 3-4 while casual dinner parties average 2-3.

                                                    Substantial sides don't influence the entree. Entree decided first and then sides layered on.

                                                    1. I usually try to make sure the meal is nutritionally balanced, containing protein (could be meat, fish, tofu, eggs or beans), carb (rice, grains, pasta, bread, potatoes) and vegetable (usually green but could be squash, mushroom etc.). These could be together or separate dishes but must be relatively simple bc i work full time and have young children. My husband doesn't like having only one thing to eat though, so even if I make a nutritionally complete one dish meal, I have to add something alongside like a salad or some cheese, just so that there's a different taste on the table. I just try to vary the options as much as possible within my constraints so nobody (especially me) gets bored.

                                                      1. My meals tend to be meat protein, a starch side and a veggie/fruit side. How I decide what to serve: I try to rotate the starch, veggie and/or fruit sides during the week, and also consider colors. To get out of your cooking rut, keep a variety on-hand so you can mix/match. My niece uses a random draw at the start of the week to make up the meal menus with sides, sometimes adjusting if a combo is unappealing but more often just trying it.

                                                        Starches - white/brown rice, pastas in all shapes including more colorful "garden delights" pastas, baked potatoes, baked fresh sweet potatoes, baked winter squash (acorn, butternut). Veggies - I keep a variety of frozen ones on hand, including a few blends. Fresh veg, other than asparagus, tend to reach sad ending in my crisping drawer -- somehow the prep time before cooking becomes a barrier. We seldom have lettuce salads. Fresh fruit instead of veg works well one or two nights, particularly at the start of each one's season. That's since when the was/stem/slice prep is done, there's not also cooking time.

                                                        But if we want to have broiled chicken, mashed potatoes and cauliflower (all white..), I just get out the colorful plates for serving.

                                                        1. I usually plan the meals for the week over the weekend. I find this helps make sense of it all. I can figure out meals / leftovers / appropriate sides / etc. I plan M-F and just wing the weekends.

                                                          1. One or two if I'm cooking a meat, I usually have a starch and a veg. But if I don't want the starch, just the veg.

                                                            If it's a pasta dish, the veg might be mixed in with the pasta. So I might just have some garlic bread or a salad alongside. Or sometimes nothing.

                                                            1. 90% of the time it's just DH and me, and I plan for leftovers as much as possible.

                                                              If I make a "plain" protein such as a steak or grilled chicken, then I make at least 2 sides--usually a starch and a veggie, or 2 veggies. Occasionally I'll make soup, and serve that beforehand, but then only make 1 side dish.

                                                              I serve pasta by itself, sometimes with a green salad.

                                                              I generally serve one dish meals like beef stew or chili by themselves, but if I feel ambitious I'll make rolls or cornbread to go with.

                                                              1. None.
                                                                Food is served hot, when it's hot.
                                                                If I'm going to eat multiple things, I have multiple courses.

                                                                10 Replies
                                                                1. re: Chowrin

                                                                  That's really interesting to me. So if the fish is ready, it's there on a plate all by itself?

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    I often eat fish, particularly, without other food on the plate because I like the purity of the flavor.

                                                                    But generally I no longer think of the protein as the main and the veggies as the sides as I have flipped the proportions so that meat is more a condiment.

                                                                    Except fish. I like a big piece of simply prepared fish as often as possible. I realized also as I read this thread how often we eat soups or stews or casseroles to make one dish meals.

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      Yup. ditto the corned beef, except if i'm making boiled dinner, new england style.

                                                                      I don't have patience to time everything, and I hate cold food.

                                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                                        I'm curious. When/if you entertain, do you 'serve' the same way?

                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                          I entertain rarely, but yeah.
                                                                          First fluffy bagels, then later beef stew.
                                                                          Or whatever.

                                                                          Except when parents come over. Then I'll make a good one-dish. (Japanese spaghetti works well).

                                                                          1. re: Chowrin

                                                                            Wanna share what "Japanese spaghetti is'"? Sounds like perhaps the ultimate fusion food :)

                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                              Not fusion at all. Just Yakisoba (the name of which I forgot, but I remembered my husband terming it Japanese spaghetti at the table).

                                                                              Basically a quick japanese noodle stirfry, with veggies and flank steak.

                                                                              1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                Oh, cool. Just a family name. You really had me going :) I also realized after posting that I don't know what a "fluffy bagel" is?

                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                  Oh, just an ordinary homemade poached bagel.
                                                                                  My japanese colleague described it as being "fuwafuani" -- fluffy like a cloud.

                                                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                    I love our special languages that we all have. Sounds like you're having fun. Great.

                                                                  2. Usually I follow the typical meat, veg, starch thing. If the main dish is heavy, like chicken cordon bleu or something like that, I'll skip the starch and go for a mixed veggie side. Or with pizza or pasta, I'll always have a green salad on the side.
                                                                    Sadly, my veggies sides are usually pretty uninspired. I just don't love vegetables, but I'm really trying to get over that.

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: alliegator

                                                                      allie, I don't love them either. I have a few things I like so I end up doing all the same veggie sides all the time.

                                                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                                                        To the two of you, we're the same. I think we've had roasted asparagus three nights in a row!

                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                          Yup, I have a few regulars and just rotate or eat them back to back - roasted asparagus, steamed broccoli. I've throw in a few new ones collard greens and green bean but usually it's asparagus at our house...a very smelly place :)

                                                                      2. re: alliegator

                                                                        I too used to tend to avoid eating vegetables...and then I discovered roasting! Now veggies are often my favorite part of the meal. Roasting vegetables could not be simpler, but it does require heating the oven and about 30 minues or so of cooking time. One only needs to wash and dry the veggies, cut them up to sizes that will roast more quickly and evenly, drizzle them with good olive oil and sprinkle wth salt, pepper and some flavorings such as fresh or dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, etc. My favorites for roasting are small new potatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, red peppers, and asparagus. Very, very easy...and delicious. Leftovers are great cold in salads, in a sandwich, for snacking or on a flatbread.

                                                                        1. re: josephnl

                                                                          Actually I "discovered" this this winter. To your list I'll add beets, onions, garlic. I do them in a CI skillet, covered with foil at 425 for 30 minutes, remove the foil and roast another 20. It's probably the most vegs I've ever eaten and I can't believe I forgot to post it.

                                                                          1. re: josephnl

                                                                            I am with you on this. I've never been a veggie hater but I just never really focused on them. Now as a meatarian I usually eat heaping doses of meat alongside just as big portions of veggies and that I often struggle to decide which is the better bite that I want to save for last.

                                                                        2. i am like most here but don't have to worry about cooking for a family.
                                                                          when it is just me, i will have a protein and a (preferably green) veg every night. and then i usually make a starch/grain and eat a bite or two but usually will pack that with any leftovers as a lunch the next day.
                                                                          when entertaining there is always a protein, 2 veg (one is always green and sometimes mixed) and a starch. my go to entertaining meal is seared scallops with balsamic drizzle, sauteed spinach and mushroom risotto.

                                                                          1. Sometimes I only eat sides!! If the side dish is good and it is just me and my husband...we will just eat the side dish and not bother with the main course! It really depends on how tired I am whether I cook a whole meal. During the week I am lucky to get one item on a plate before heading off to bed.

                                                                            1. Sometimes the sides ARE dinner.

                                                                              grilled Haloumi and lemon slices
                                                                              along with broccoli rabe and garlic saute
                                                                              sliced tomato basil chicken sausage
                                                                              grilled pineapple with balsamic glaze

                                                                              1. It's just my SO and me, and he is a picky eater and also eats very little. I've had to adapt my cooking style quite a bit since we've lived together.

                                                                                I grew up with a very balanced dinner that usually centered on a main protein with a side carb/starch (often bread) and two vegetables (one might be salad). SO eats a small plate and is very choosy about vegetables, so I have learned to trim my dinner menus to one main (usually a protein with lots of vegetables incorporated) and one vegetable side. I miss the variety of options at the dinner meal the way I am used to doing things, but now additional sides means something will go to waste. We'll eat some leftovers, but not enough to maintain my old cooking habits. Old dog, new tricks. ;)

                                                                                1. I usually do a protein and two sides, with a pre-dinner salad.

                                                                                  Last night, I had a braised boneless beef rib with a pan sauce, mashed potatoes, field peas, and an avocado/tomato/onion/blue cheese salad.

                                                                                  On the other hand, spaghetti and meatballs gets a salad and nothing else.

                                                                                  1. When I entertain, I usually have a cheese course out for people to nibble on as they come in. I start with a first course of either a soup or salad. And then with the entree I have two sides, a vegetable and a starch. And, of course, dessert.

                                                                                    For a regular meal, I usually do a vegetable and some kind of bread - sliced sourdough, biscuit, roll etc.

                                                                                    1. 2-3 always a veg, usually a starch, sometimes a salad. unless it's a soup or casserole, then just the main and a salad.

                                                                                      1. I live alone and have downsized to cooking for one but if I am serving a meat dish such as a pork chop then I will serve a baked potato rice or wild rice and either a veg or a salad.....no bread dessert etc. Small portions and usually fresh fruit a bit after dinner. When I cooked for my family I always made too much food.I prefer my simplified cooking style now. I live in California and I cook seasonally.Winter is hearty stews...casseroles....spring summer is huge salads....grilled veggie kabobs.....roasted beets...corn...asparagus...potatoes...lots of fruit.

                                                                                        1. In my family it all depends on what's in the fridge/pantry. Plus time, mood, who is eating and who is cooking. Normally it's some combo of protein, starch, 2-3 veggies (often leftovers and its my preference) then something sweet for hubby.

                                                                                          1. In summer, we'll frequently grill peaches with the meat. And corn. And onions. Oh, hell, you get the picture :)

                                                                                            1. I guess one or two. But we're almost 100% veg so usually there isn't a really obvious main. If I make pasta, salad is the side--sometimes garlic bread if I have a serious need for comfort food. On the rare occasion that I cook fish, probably two vegetable sides. For this one particularly elegant tofu dish I make, in which the tofu takes on a central role to the meal like meat would, I make two or three sides.

                                                                                              For sandwiches usually one side, like lentil salad or white bean salad.