Meal Planning with Side Dishes

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Dinnertime at our house tends to be somewhat of an event. It’s the time of the day when our whole family is together. And now with my youngest brother living with us, it’s a lively, full table. The girls and I and six guys!

Since we all enjoy eating, I tend to prepare a more “fun” meal for dinner as compared to breakfast and lunch. That is to say, I use my imagination a little more and try to be creative. Last week I experimented a little. I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to hear the men in my family talk about the meal the next day — because it was that good, and not the train wreck that all-too-often results.

(Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be the Next Food Network Star anytime soon.)

How to Plan a Meal lays out the basics to how I approach menu planning. Using what we have on hand and what is on sale that week, I map out a “culinary agenda” for our family. While the main dish is usually my focus, I try to plan side dishes as well. Those can fall by the wayside and if I don’t have a plan, well, the meal just isn’t as fun or filling.

When selecting side dishes, I look at two categories: starches and fruits & veggies. I once heard the suggestion to make your plate half fruits and veggies, one-fourth protein, and one-fourth carbs. While I would like to say this works well at our house and everyone gets his 8 a day, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.

For starches, I rely on the four greats: taters, rice, bread, and pasta. I serve each one 1-2 times per week. Usually, we will have some bread item as a main dish like sandwiches or pizza, so that night I don’t usually add a carb-rich side. Some of our favorites include Mexican Rice, Cheesy Potatoes, Pasta Salad, Macaroni and Cheese, and Homemade Baguettes.

I try not to serve the same starch two nights in a row, unless we’re having beans and rice one night and then having those as sides the next night with another Mexican main dish. I don’t know if my kids notice that I mix it up, but I like to have the variety.

Fruits and Vegetables
Most dieticians agree that we should have at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This works out to 2-3 servings per meal. Yikes! So, it’s good to plan a couple different options with your meals.

Salads are an easy side dish for me as everyone in the family enjoys them. Our kids don’t embrace other vegetables as much as I would like, though green beans and broccoli usually go down fairly well. But, I admit, it’s usually a battle.

Fruits, on the other hand, are generally not a problem. When I serve fruit or fruit salad at dinner, I usually hold it until the end so that I can bribe reward them with it when they are reticent to eat their veggies.

My Plan This Week

*recipes to follow. Stay tuned at Good (&Cheap) Eats.

For more menu-planning inspiration, visit I’m an Organizing Junkie every Monday.

Do you plan side dishes? What’s one of your favorites?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Becca says

    Our side dishes are a little lackluster. The toddler doesn't like most raw veggies including salad (and neither does the hubby). We do like sliced cucumber and carrot sticks though.

    I have learned the power of adding veggies right to the meal. Even with complaints of peas in the macaroni and cheese, both get eaten. That is also how i end up making people eat things like beans. Mix it right in with the meat. There is usually some comment about how it isn't as good, but the tacos get eaten so I disregard comments.

  2. Stacee says

    Great ideas! I'm a horrible, horrible, horrible when it comes to sides!

  3. The Prudent Homemaker says

    I wrote four months of menus for myself (one for each season) that included sides. I used to have a basic meal list, but once I wrote down side dishes with all my meals, planning became so much easier.

    We have fruit salad with breakfast several days a week (more often in the winter). My children love asparagus, so I have planted a second asparagus bed.

    I will give them apples as part of their snack some days.

    I'll also make zucchini muffins or carrot cake as another way to get them their fruits and vegetables.

    We also have soup several times a week. The vegetables are in the soup, and the side dish is homemade bread.

    In summmer, we like to have caprese salad as a side (usually as a starter), or corn and tomato salad as a side.

    At lunch, we'll have grapes, or carrots, or cucumbers, or raisins, or dried apritcots, depending on the season (ie, what is growing fresh in my garden that season).

    In spring and fall, when lettuce and spinach are growing well in my garden, we'll have more salads.

  4. Katie @ goodLife {eats} says

    In the summer I love fresh veggies for sides. Toss halved grape or cherry tomatoes with basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil and a few cubes of mozzarella.

    Another big summer side here: Herb-Grilled Potatoes

    Watermelon, grapes, sliced peaches…those are all yummy summer fruits for sides that go especially great if you're grilling.

    I love orzo too. Mix with different veggies for different flavors. Spinach and sundried tomatoes are good for italian flavors. Asparagus and bell peppers are also good together.

    In the winter I tend to do more rice, roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes type things.

  5. darnold23 says

    I hope you will join me for Crock Pot Wednesdays this week at Thanks for posting.

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