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Healthy Ingredients for Sides That Pair Well With Almost Any Main Dish

Kevin Devoto Nov 02, 2019
When you are planning dinner, it is easy to focus on the main course. Whether that is pasta, a roast, or grilled tuna steaks, you can spend hours searching for the right recipe and double-checking your ingredient list.
Don't let the side dishes get lost in that process. Here are six great ingredients that, when prepared right, come together quickly and can work with almost any main dish.

Whole grains

For most people, whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. They offer heart and gut-healthy fiber and are generally high in protein. Instead of lathering butter onto bread, though, look for some other variations of whole-grain sides to add them into your diet.
A quinoa salad, for example, can have a greek salad feel with feta and olives, go light and citrusy with a balsamic base, or be tossed with almonds and cranberries. Brown and wild rice can be served plain with a particularly complex main dish, or mixed into a veggie-packed pilaf for color and flavor.

Cruciferous Veggies

These vegetables, also known as Brassicas, are packed with vitamins and minerals, not to mention fiber. Included in the list of cruciferous vegetables are broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Bok choy, collard greens, and kale are some popular leafy members of this family.
Before you start wondering what goes with Brussel sprouts, you should understand how many great health benefits they can provide. They are incredibly high in folic acid, not to mention vitamins A, B6, C and E. Cruciferous vegetables have been linked to reduced oxidative stress from free radicals, lower rates of cancer, and improved markers of heart health.
You'll want to keep a close eye on these veggies when preparing them since they can produce a very strong sulfur odor when they are overcooked. If you prefer your sides cold, broccoli and cabbage are both excellent choices for salads or coleslaw.


There are loads of vitamins and fiber in potatoes, and they provide a healthy dose of carbohydrates that can fuel exercise and activity levels. Most potatoes will provide a healthy dose of potassium, supplying more than a banana. By themselves, potatoes are naturally fat-free so, they can be a heart-healthy side option.
Try drizzling some potato wedges with olive oil and sprinkling them with herbs and spices before roasting them for a healthy and gluten-free dish. Mashed potatoes make a great comfort food dish, too. Try adding cheese or garlic for flavor instead of butter to keep fat levels down.

Root Vegetables

You don't have to wait for cold weather to enjoy root vegetables. Although they do provide a nice chance for fresh winter veggies, root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and parsnips can be enjoyed year-round.
Skip sugary glazes and heavy sauces which can easily add empty calories, and opt instead for roasting them in olive oil for a colorful side. You can also toss them into soup and stews for an added punch of vitamins and fiber.

Lettuce and Greens

Salads are quick and easy, especially when you consider all the ready to serve options available today. Stay away from plain iceberg lettuce and look for dark green lettuces, spinach, and other greens for a salad base. Look to vary color with carrots, roasted beets, peppers, and other vegetables.
If you want some protein, look at adding nuts, low-fat cheese, or hard-boiled eggs. Not all salads are made from leafy green vegetables, either, and yours is only limited by your imagination.


Beans and lentils can make good side dishes. Baked to perfection, refried for a creamier texture, or sauteed with greens, beans are a high-protein side dish that offers loads of vitamins, minerals, and good-for-you fiber. You can even serve them cold as a bean salad or salsa.
No matter what type of main dish you are preparing, the right sides can help round it out and add loads of nutrients to your meal. Look for dishes that come together quickly and work with a wide range of flavors.