When meal planning, side dishes can often be an afterthought. While it’s good to stock up on the basics so you can whip something up quickly in pinch, I’ve also included a wide variety of recipes and ideas here so you can plan easy and delicious pairings with your main courses.
Sides Recipes by Category
Here are a bunch of sides recipes by category … click on an image or scroll to explore.
Go-to Basic Sides
…and here are some super simple sides that are EASY to make and will go with just about any meal!
Cook whole wheat noodles—like spaghetti or penne—according to package directions (usually you’ll boil the noodles for about 9 minutes). A pound of dried pasta is 8 servings, so we normally cook half a package.
After you’ve cooked and strained the noodles, mix them up with some olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. You can also add a little crushed red pepper and dried Italian herbs if you want more flavor. Top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese, and you’ve got a quick, delicious side!
If you’re cooking an Asian meal, consider these whole-grain ramen noodles (I omit the flavoring packet) that are ready in no time.
Simple Side Salad
Toss together greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.) and toasted nuts/seeds, then top with grated Parmesan cheese. Make a basic dressing from olive oil and lemon juice (you can shake it up in a small jar with lid) to drizzle over top, or check out my Easy Mustard Vinaigrette post for more ideas.
How to toast nuts/seeds: I use a small frying pan (dry) over medium-low to medium heat. Add the nuts/seeds and stir or shake the pan frequently until they toast and turn a light brown. It only takes a few minutes…they can burn quickly so pay close attention. I put the nuts in a small bowl and chill them in the freezer for a few minutes so they don’t wilt the lettuce when I assemble the salad.
Chop your veggies into bite sized pieces. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the veggies to the pan. Stir occasionally until the veggies are just tender, about 4-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste (you can also add a little Italian seasoning and/or grated parmesan cheese if you prefer), and enjoy.
Notes: – If you are cooking “soft” veggies like squash or zucchini, wait and add them after the “hard” veggies (like carrots, broccoli, onion, etc.) have cooked for a few minutes first. – Don’t underestimate frozen produce! You can follow the same directions as above.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and dry the potatoes, then use a fork to poke the potato about 10-12 times, being sure to go about an inch deep. Rub a little bit of olive oil over the potato and season with a little salt. Place the potatoes either directly on your oven racks or place a wire rack over a baking sheet and place on top. Bake for about 30-60 minutes (depending on size…8 ounces is typical), until you can easily pierce it with a fork.
Chop the veggies into uniform pieces. Fill a pot with water just above the bottom of a steamer basket and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables, cover, and let steam until tender. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper, if desired. Broccoli: 3 to 5 minutes Green Beans: 4 to 5 minutes Carrots: 4 to 5 minutes, depending on how thick you cut them Cauliflower: 10 to 12 minutes
Brown rice takes a long time to cook, but you can buy pre-cooked brown rice that heats up in 90 seconds! I usually keep some packages on hand in case I’m short on time, but since the flavor and texture is better if you cook it yourself, here are some basic instructions.
How to Cook Brown Rice: Follow package directions, but it usually goes like this—Rinse 1 cup brown rice with water using a strainer and add to a medium pot. Add 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt (optional), then turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Once the timer goes off, use a fork to fluff the rice (you can add a tablespoon of butter if you wish) and serve warm.
Mashed potatoes are a simple side dish when you’re looking to add starch to your plate. Start by boiling a large pot of water and scrubbing your potatoes (about 2 pounds) before dicing them into 1 – 2 inch pieces (no need to peel). Cook the potatoes in the water until tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Drain the water and puree the potatoes with an electric mixer or hand masher. Mix in 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/3 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste until thuroughly combined. You can also add one more step with this cheesy casserole version.
Spread butter on each slice of bread and place butter side up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with garlic powder and place under the broiler until lightly toasted, about 1 – 2 minutes.
This creamy side dish is so simple to make and pairs well with chicken. Start by combining 2 cups milk, 2 cups broth, 1 cup cornmeal, and 1/2 tsp of salt in a saucepan over high heat. When it comes to a light boil, turn the heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the cornmeal. Whisk every few minutes so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Add more liquid if necessary to keep the polenta from becoming overly thick. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese and serve warm.