Side Dishes

5 min read
Side Dishes

Planning meals can be a first-class pain in the brain, and sometimes you just want to have the same 10 mains, on rotation through the month. Or you have 6 meals and they are set for Monday-Saturday, and come Sunday it’s make-you-own-pizza or eat at Nanna’s or it’s your partner’s turn to cook a lovely roast.

This article is about how to spice up your meal repertoire with some interesting side dishes. Here are 10 ideas to change up your menu just by having 10 meals and 10 sides, you have a hundred different menus to choose from. Stick to two rules first is to use what’s in season and second is to learn to use canned or frozen goods so you always have something to serve with your main.

Vegetables on sticks are a huge hit.

Think about how long things take to cook, and use vegetables that hold their shape avoid potato and pumpkin as it falls apart when cooked. Capsicum, beans and peas, baby corn, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, baby tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms work well. Baste with a little oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake or grill til cooked.

Try a different preparation method

Pan fry some gnocchi, stir fry some greens with a dash of tamari and sesame oil, try Brussel sprouts cooked in a flat pan with garlic, bacon, butter and almonds or present baked cauliflower and broccoli florets served with an interesting dip. Creamed spinach is delicious and easy to make and complements simple meat dishes.

Explore rice with a difference.

Risotto can be made in batches and heated up quickly or cooked into little arancini balls which can be baked rather than deep-fried. Cook the rice with coconut milk or stock instead of water, adding some spices or herbs to suit. Make a pilaf with an in-season vegetable or use cooked brown rice as a salad ingredient, either warm or cold. Use frozen vegetables, steamed with the rice as it cooks, then add in Chinese sausage and a dash of soy and call it fried rice.

Get To Know Your Grains

Another grain such as quinoa, couscous, polenta or Bulgar can be used for the side. There are more options than space here but they are easy to prepare with the main meal, are mildly flavoured so easy to dress up into whatever suits your meal, and are the cornerstone of many traditional cuisines so there are lots of recipes. Start with a small amount to check that your family will eat it!


Can be warm or cold, but make the most of the produce that is in season. Beetroot makes a wonderful salad when roasted (or canned baby ones) with feta, Spanish onion and greens; a garden salad with colourful tomatoes, a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds and a hint of lemon juice compliments any summer meal; and

Try a classic salad

Caesar, Waldorf, Tabouleh, Greek, coleslaw, potato, Nicoise, taco, antipasto, gado gado, pasta, Kimchee and many others are well-known parts of our food culture. Don’t keep them for special occasions or when you eat out! Bring them into your home, adapt them to your family and use it as a reason to buy new salad bowls.


Add some colour and interest by adding some chopped dried apricots to your savoury rice, or some sliced plum to your garden salad. Apple and celery are a match made in heaven, dried cranberries and pine nuts add interest to any salad, and you can always use orange, grapefruit or mandarin pieces. Pair pear with a cheese and some simple lettuces

Roasted veges

Any vegetable is better roasted. Parboil them then toss vigorously with coconut oil, salt and pepper, lemon zest, dill or whatever takes your fancy. Roast in a hot oven while the rest of dinner is cooking and serve. You could also grill or bbq for a change.

Add white sauce and call it something interesting

All veges pair well with Béchamel or cheese sauce and you can add endless variety by adding herbs to the mix. Dill, parsley, thyme, sage and lemon pepper work well with a range of vegetables, and it’s so easy to tailor it to your family or to the rest of the meal. Make a huge batch and take it for lunch the next day cold or hot, it’s pretty tasty!

Patties or fritters

They hide a range of vegetables, stack neatly and are a great way to get your kids into cooking. They whip up quickly, take minutes to cook and are a blank slate for whatever tickles your taste buds that day (or whatever leftovers you have hiding in the fridge). My family recipe was 1 cup of self-raising flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 egg, mixed well then lots of things such as cheese, herbs and spices, cooked meat and vegetables (fruit or chocolate to make dessert ones!) were added and  mixed around until they were well coated. Cook in a frying pan with a little oil, over a medium heat until crisp on one side then flip to finish cooking.

Keep it simple and watch your menus change with the season with little to no effort on your behalf. Keep a few tins in the cupboard baby beetroots, baby corn, corn kernels, 4 bean mix, white beans, chickpeas and you can assemble several of these with very little fuss. You can also extend any meal with a decent, filling side dish lasagne for 4 becomes lasagne and bean salad for 8, in the blink of an eye!

What’s your favourite type of side dish? What things do your family never tire of, always ask for when menu planning, or do you remember from your childhood?

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About Author

Saskia Brown

Saskia is mama wearing lots of different hats while parenting two small girls. She is a midwife, is married to a scientist and lives in the Adelaide H...Read Moreills in South Australia. When she's not juggling parenting and working, she likes to do a lot of walking, photography and crafting. She enjoys yoga when the childerbeasts are asleep, writing when the mood strikes, reading a good organisational blog or dreaming of far off places. Read Less

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