The Art of the Side Dish – What Goes With…


Art of the Side Dish

Side dishes are my dinner downfall. If I’m not intentional, I’ll forget about them when I’m prepping dinner, because I’m so focused on the main dish.

I’ve written about easy side dish ideas a couple of times.

But how do you know what sides pair well with different main dishes? Some things are easy – Spaghetti and salad. Meat, vegetable, roll.

There are other recipes that present more of a challenge. Sides to go with stir-fry. Moving beyond chips and salsa with a Mexican meal. What to serve with potpie and other all-inclusive casseroles.

We’ll be tackling some of these in future posts, but today I want to share a few things I keep in mind when planning the meals for Weekly Meal Plans.

A good side/main dish pairing will do a few things for your meal:  

  • Round out the nutrition
  • Balance the flavors
  • Add and compliment the textures of the main dish
  • Add and compliment the colors of the main dish

Round out the Nutrition

Most of the protein is likely to be found in the main dish.  Sides are a great place to bring in vegetables, fruits and grains that may not be part of the main dish recipe.

honey glazed carrots in the slow cooker done

Balance the Flavors

A spicy main dish pairs great with something mild.  Think Mexican foods with refried beans and rice.

Or hot chicken curry served with naan or steamed rice.

A comfort food dish like macaroni and cheese tastes wonderful with tomatoes.  Either stewed or sliced fresh, the acid in the tomatoes balances the milder cheese and pasta flavors.

cucumber tomato salad done

Add and Compliment the Texture

Pasta dishes are soft.  Salads are crisp.  Perfect combo.

Soup goes well with  crackers or crunchy bread.

Eggs and toast.  Steak and potatoes.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Even these classic combos gain part of their appeal from the way their textures play off each other.

asian broccoli salad done

Add and Compliment the Colors

Color is very important in food.  A plate of chicken and dumplings, corn and mashed potatoes may taste good, but it’s not much to look at.

Better to pair the chicken and dumplings with turnip greens and a baked sweet potato.

easy smashed sweet potatoes

In some upcoming posts, we’ll be tackling some of the harder main dish items to pair with sides.  But I want to make a bit of a disclaimer too:

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be a meal.

You don’t have to always have the perfect side for your main dish in order to serve your family.  It’s really nice when it all comes together the way we picture it.  But some nights, it’s more important to get dinner on the table than to fuss about the perfect side.

So, yes.  Think about your side dishes when you’re planning meals.  Aim for something that really compliments the main dish in a way you can enjoy.  But don’t get too hung up on it if time gets away from you.

I’d love to know what the most challenging main dishes are for you to choose sides for.

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  1. Lois Allen says:

    The most challenging meal is a main dish salad – I like warm lentils on spinach bed. What is a good side for that (besides bread and butter, which I always have).

    • That is a tough one. Pita bread or Naan with hummus comes to mind. That’s still a bread though, but it’s a little different that bread and butter.


  1. […] talked about the basics of choosing side dishes.  And last week we talked about side dish options for pot pies and other […]

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