All that meat and no potatoes
just ain’t right, like green tomatoes.
Here I’m waiting, palpitatin’,
for all that meat and no potatoes.
— Fats Waller
I’m talking about the “meat-starch-vegetable” mealtime mantra. Ever since I was a little girl, I watched my mom, grandmother, aunts and great aunts prepare meals from this triune template. There was always a meat (beef, pork, chicken or fish), a starch (potatoes, rice or pasta) and a vegetable (fresh steamed or from a can). If a meal came to the table lacking one of these components, it was assumed the cook was sampling a bit too much cognac (not everyone could handle the strong stuff like Julia could on PBS).
As all busy parents know, any timesavers for meal preparation — especially dinner — are greatly appreciated. And even back in the 1970s, combining two of the three groups — not eliminating any, heaven forbid — was an inspired move. My mom’s most often used combination was spaghetti with meat sauce (meat+starch). It could be argued that this also included a veg (the tomatoes in the sauce), but that might have been considered heretical.
When flying solo for dinner, it doesn’t matter so much to me if I don’t have the meat-starch-vegetable combo on my plate, but for some reason, when I am serving my family, this culinary trinity is still my preferred meal plan. Though archaic in thinking, covering all three bases usually ensures a balanced meal with enough protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you play ZisBoomBah’s Pick Chow game with your kids, you will see how easy it is to make a 5-star meal using these three groups as your base.
With today’s more relaxed cooking standards, it is easier than ever to choose unconventional ingredients for the three food groupings. “Meat” can be more loosely defined as protein, which not only includes animal products but beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh and seitan. Starches can include the usual wheat, potato and rice products, but also non-traditional carbohydrates like quinoa, couscous, celeriac and taro root. And with great bounty of vegetables available throughout the year from local farmers and those abroad, opening a can of limp vegetables is a thing of the distant past. Keep trying new vegetables, the more unusual the better to appeal to kids’ sense of adventure. Snake gourd, yardlong beans and kabucha squash are some exotic examples.
Following are some two-for-one meal ideas to combine two or more elements of your meal in one dish. You’ll save time, pots, pans and serving dishes. And even better, your kids are more likely to eat their vegetables when they are part of another dish!
Rice Is Nice: New Orleans Red Beans and Rice; Chana Masala (chickpea curry); Paella; Arroz con Pollo; Fried Rice (just add protein, e.g. chicken, to our recipe); Aranici (Italian stuffed rice balls).
Cold-Night Casseroles: Shepherd’s Pie; Moussaka (Greek lamb and eggplant casserole); Tuna Noodle Casserole; Strata; Enchiladas.