We all know the typical, mealtime song and dance. Chicken goes with pasta, hamburgers go with fries, soups go with bread and butter, etc., etc., etc. So what if you want to get a little creative and stray from these typical meals? It’s incredibly easy to come up with great meal ideas for dinner if you know the basic building blocks for a meal.
#1 Meat or Protein: A protein is typically the main part of any dish. Yes, there are the exceptions, like in pasta dishes and stir frys, but generally a main course is a portion of protein accompanied with sides. This protein serving can be anything from chicken to lobster. If your main protein is an expensive cut of meat, try not to drown it out with a heavy sauce. Instead, let the flavors speak for themselves. Pick your protein wisely, as it will dictate the rest of your meal.
#2 Vegetable: Next comes the veggies. While vegetables aren’t critical to every meal, they do contribute to a healthy and wholesome diet and should be considered as you’re preparing meals for your family. Lobster pairs well with lighter-colored vegetables, like squash and zucchini, while a filet or steak is strong enough to bolster something a bit heavier, like grilled onions and mushrooms, or grilled asparagus. The grilled vegetables go well with the smoked tastes of a steak hot off the grill.
Another contributing factor to your vegetable selection could be the season. Pick vegetables that are in season for your meals so that you can get the freshest produce at the supermarket. There are plenty of info graphics online that can tell you what’s in season in your area.
#3 Starch: You can add further depth to your dish by contributing a starch to accompany your vegetable and protein. Corn tastes great with a lobster dish, jasmine rice looks elegant next to a cod or mahi mahi, and chicken goes with, well, basically anything. Shorter pastas, like penne, are versitle and can be sauced or spiced to go with nearly any main dish.
#4 Sweet: You can’t end a meal on a sour note. Instead, pick a sweet and lovely dessert to end your perfectly balanced meal. You can analyze the characteristics of your protein to decide on an adequate dessert. For example, if you’re dining on a filet mignon, you’ll want to end with something equally rich, like a chocolate-based dessert. If you’re preparing an American-style chicken, like one marinated in a honey-dijon sauce, you can follow it with an equally American dessert, like apple pie with some vanilla ice cream. For a main dish marinated or complimented with citrus, like seafood, a dessert with citrus, like a sorbet or a lemon merengue could be perfect.
There are several other factors you should keep in mind when you’re creating a meal. For example, color is crucial to any dish, so make your meal look appetizing by adding color through vibrant vegetables or garnishes. A well-arranged dish is also more appetizing than a dish that is haphazardly assembled. Try not to get too messy in the kitchen! Also remember that a salad or bread served before the main course may not necessarily account for your vegetable and starch, so serve all three factors (protein, veggie, and starch) all on the same plate, even if you’ve already served a preliminary course. You don’t want your protein to be lonely on the plate, all by itself. When in doubt, look to the category of the main dish’s preparation (American, Italian, Indian, Chinese, etc.) and choose your side dishes from there. You can’t go wrong.