What is a good side dish to serve with?

Choosing the right side dish to complement a main course can be tricky. The side should taste good with the main dish, add color and texture to the plate, and provide nutritional balance to the meal. A good side dish depends on the type of main course being served. Here are some quick answers to common questions about picking sides:

What are some classic side dishes for meat entrees?

Popular sides for meat like beef, pork or lamb include roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, pasta, roasted vegetables, salad, and bread. Starch sides like mashed potatoes or polenta pair well by soaking up meat juices. Roasted potatoes, especially with herbs, complement roasted or grilled meats. Leafy salad greens balance a rich, heavy main.

What sides go well with chicken?

Chicken is versatile enough to pair with a wide variety of sides. Baked or mashed potatoes, rice, roasted veggies, pasta and bread all make excellent chicken sides. Salads with vinaigrette pair nicely. For a lighter option, steamed vegetables like broccoli, carrots or greens.

What are good vegetable side dishes?

If serving a vegetable-centric main like eggplant parmesan or vegetable curry, aim for sides that provide contrast. Grains like couscous, quinoa or rice complement without competing. Roasted potatoes or a salad balance the plate. Garlic bread or dinner rolls complete the meal.

What sides work well with fish entrees?

Fish and seafood entrees pair beautifully with rice, pasta or couscous to soak up any sauce. Roasted potatoes or bread lend heartiness. Steamed vegetables like green beans or broccoli add color. A tangy slaw also complements fish nicely.

How can I pick the best side for a special occasion meal?

For holiday meals or dinner parties, choose upscale side dishes that feel special. Options include roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, goat cheese polenta, wild rice pilaf, lemon-dill orzo pasta, roasted root vegetables, creamy potato gratin, and fresh fruit salad.

Complementing Different Main Dish Types

When deciding what side dishes to serve, consider the main course you’re pairing them with. Certain sides complement particular entrees better than others.

Sides for Poultry

Chicken and turkey entrees pair well with these delicious sides:

– Rice pilaf or wild rice – The nutty flavor complements poultry.

– Pasta salad with vegetables – Cold pasta salads provide a contrast in texture.

– Roasted sweet potatoes – The natural sweetness balances poultry.

– Glazed carrots – The pop of orange brightens up the plate.

– Dinner rolls – Great for sopping up any sauce or gravy.

– Green salad with vinaigrette – Cut the richness with tangy greens.

Sides for Beef

For steak, burgers, meatloaf and other beef dishes, try these sides:

– Mashed potatoes – The quintessential partner, perfect for soaking up beef juices.

– Roasted potatoes – Crispy roasted potatoes add crunch.

– Creamed spinach – The velvety cream sauce complements hearty beef.

– Roasted mushrooms – Earthy flavor balances the beef.

– Tomatoes and zucchini – Fresh vegetables cut the richness.

– Bread or rolls – Good for dipping in pan sauces or gravy.

Sides for Pork

Complement pork chops, tenderloin, roasts and more with:

– Applesauce – The classic pairing cuts pork’s richness.

– Roasted sweet potatoes – Sweetness balances the savory pork.

– Southern-style green beans – Buttery beans with bacon lardons.

– Corn on the cob – Summery fresh corn is a crowd pleaser.

– Skillet cornbread – Warm cornbread soaks up pot roast gravy.

– Bacon potato salad – Tangy and robust, pairs perfectly.

Sides for Lamb

For lamb roasts, chops or kebabs, delicious side options include:

– Couscous salad with currants – Fruity couscous provides contrast.

– Roasted cauliflower – The nutty cauliflower stands up to lamb.

– Garlic and herb roast potatoes – Crispy roast potatoes work with rich meat.

– Tomato and cucumber salad – Fresh salad balances the heavy dish.

– Hummus and pita – Chickpea hummus cools spicy lamb.

– Rice pilaf – Fluffy pilaf soaks up savory juices.

Sides for Fish and Seafood

Seafood like salmon, halibut, shrimp or scallops pairs well with:

– Lemon butter rice – Buttery rice highlights the lemony fish.

– Sautéed spinach – Garlicky spinach adds richness.

– Roasted asparagus – Quick roasted asparagus.

– Coleslaw – Crunchy cabbage cuts the richness.

– Garlic bread – Great for dipping in pan sauces.

– Summer squash sauté – Light and healthy squash side.

Complementing Flavors and Textures

In addition to pairing sides with specific mains, also consider flavors, textures, colors and nutritional balance.

Complementary Flavors

Choose sides that either echo or contrast the main dish’s predominant flavors:

– Matching – Buttery mashed potatoes with a rich, buttery seafood dish. Herb roasted potatoes with herb-rubbed lamb.

– Contrasting – Bright citrusy slaw with hearty fried chicken offers relief. Cool cucumber salad balances spicy curries.

– Complementary – Tangy barbecue beans support sweet, saucy barbecue brisket. Roasted vegetables echo meat’s char.

Varying Textures

Crisp, creamy, crunchy or smooth sides provide textural contrast:

– Soft polenta or grits balances crispy fried chicken.

– Toasted bread crumbs atop creamy pasta contrasts textures.

– Crisp slaw or salad greens pair with smooth mashed potatoes.

– Crunchy roasted broccoli balances tender grilled fish.

Color Contrast

Vibrant sides make the plate more appealing:

– Red potatoes or roasted beets liven up a pale chicken dish.

– Emerald green beans and spinach brighten up brown meats.

– Orange carrots and sweet potatoes pop against white fish.

– Purple cabbage coleslaw complements yellow rice or pasta.

Nutritional Balance

Round out the meal nutritionally with sides:

– Leafy greens provide vitamins and minerals.

– Beans and legumes add protein and fiber.

– Fresh vegetables offer antioxidant power.

– Whole grains like brown rice boast fiber and nutrients.

– Low calorie options like roasted cauliflower keep the meal light.

Simple Side Dishes by Season

Take advantage of peak seasonal produce and flavors when selecting sides.

Spring Sides

In spring, highlight fresh, tender new vegetables and herbs:

– Asparagus – Roast or grill spears for an elegant side.

– Peas – Try minted peas or mushy peas.

– Spring greens – Sauté spinach, arugula, chard or other greens.

– Green beans – Roast fresh green beans with lemon and garlic.

– New potatoes – Boil petite potatoes and toss with butter and chives.

– Carrots – Roast carrot coins or glaze with brown sugar.

Summer Sides

Enjoy the bounty of summer with:

– Corn on the cob – Grill or boil and slather with fresh butter.

– Tomatoes – Make a salad with sliced heirlooms and mozzarella.

– Zucchini – Roast zucchini and summer squash coins.

– Berry salad – Toss blueberries, raspberries, blackberries with mint and honey.

– Watermelon salad – Combine watermelon, feta and mint.

– Grilled stone fruits – Try grilled peaches, nectarines, apricots.

Fall Sides

In autumn, utilize hearty squash, root veggies, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts:

– Roasted Brussels sprouts – Toss with balsamic vinegar and bacon bits.

– Butternut squash – Roast cubes withsage for a tasty gratin.

– Roasted root vegetables – Combine potatoes, carrots, parsnips and garlic.

– Wild mushroom sauté – Sauté an assortment of fresh wild mushrooms.

– Cranberry relish – Make a tangy sauce with fresh cranberries.

– Roasted beets – Simple to prepare with olive oil and seasoning.

Winter Sides

During the colder months, try creamy, starchy vegetables and potatoes:

– Mashed potatoes – The ultimate cold weather comfort food.

– Potato gratin – Sliced potatoes baked with cheese and cream.

– Root vegetable puree – Blend celery root or parsnips into a smooth puree.

– Braised greens – Slow cook kale, collards or cabbage.

– Broccoli cheese casserole – A cheesy classic.

– Lentils – Simmer lentils with garlic and thyme.

Simple Side Dish Recipes

These easy side dish recipes require minimal ingredients and preparation, letting mains shine.

Roasted Potatoes


– 1 lb baby potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
– Salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Toss potatoes with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper on baking sheet.
3. Roast 25-30 minutes, tossing halfway, until crispy and browned.

Sautéed Garlic Spinach


– 1 lb fresh spinach
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 3 garlic cloves, minced
– 1 tbsp lemon juice
– Salt and pepper to taste


1. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat.
2. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant.
3. Add spinach and cook until just wilted, about 3 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Honey Glazed Carrots


– 1 lb carrots, peeled and cut diagonally
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp honey
– Pinch of thyme
– Salt and pepper to taste


1. Steam or boil carrots until tender but still crisp, 5-7 minutes.
2. Drain carrots and return to pot. Add butter, honey and thyme. Toss to coat.
3. Season with salt and pepper.

Planning a Complete Meal

When planning a meal, select mains and sides that collectively provide balanced nutrition and a variety of colors, textures and flavors.

Tips for Whole Meal Planning

– Choose a main and sides from different food groups – grains, vegetables, protein for well-rounded nutrition.

– Include lots of vegetable sides to boost vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake.

– Ensure there is color contrast and texture contrast across components.

– Balance rich, heavy dishes with bright, fresh accompanying sides.

– Incorporate a variety of cooking methods like roasting, sautéing, steaming, etc for more interest.

– Repeat some flavors or ingredients across dishes for cohesion, like herbs.

Sample Complete Meals

Here are some tasty complete meal ideas with perfectly paired mains and sides:

Pesto Chicken Pasta with Caprese Salad

Main: Pesto chicken pasta
Sides: Caprese salad, garlic bread

Pot Roast with Smashed Potatoes and Sautéed Greens

Main: Beef pot roast
Sides: Garlic smashed potatoes, sautéed kale

Salmon with Asparagus and Wild Rice

Main: Horseradish salmon fillets
Sides: Roasted asparagus, wild rice pilaf

Tofu Fried Rice with Miso Soup and Edamame

Main: Tofu veggie fried rice
Sides: Miso soup, steamed edamame beans

Shrimp Fajitas with Spanish Rice and Refried Beans

Main: Shrimp fajitas
Sides: Spanish rice, refried beans

Chicken Parmesan with Roasted Broccoli

Main: Chicken Parmesan
Sides: Roasted broccoli, garlic bread


Picking the perfect side dish completes a meal and enhances the main course. Consider the main dish’s flavors, textures and seasonality when deciding on sides. Starch, vegetable and salad sides provide contrast and balance. Taking the main course and occasion into account ensures you choose a side that pulls the whole plate together into a cohesive, satisfying meal. With simple recipes and smart pairing strategies, it’s easy to cook up tasty mains and sides.

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