Want to make streamlined, better-for-you meals? We're sharing simple protein preparations and great vegetable and grain sides to round out any dish.

By Laura Rege
December 23, 2020
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Grilled Chicken Breasts with Lemon-Thyme Sauce
Credit: Kate Sears

A healthy and satisfying dinner can be as easy as pairing a protein with delicious, flavorful vegetable or hearty grain sides. The key to cooking in this style is letting the good-for-you sides bring the flavor and perspective to the dish and treating the protein as an add on. With simple go-to methods for cooking any protein, one outstanding side dish can be transformed into a chicken, salmon, steak, or a plant-based protein dinner. Read on for our go-to lean protein recipes and tips for pairing them with flavorful vegetable and whole grain-based sides, including recipe ideas that will take you through a healthy January and beyond.

Proteins

Start by selecting the protein. The best recipes for a fast, healthy dinner are easy to make, even the first time, and just as easy to commit to memory after a few runs. The sort of recipe that you can keep in the your back pocket. Slice and dice the cooked protein and mix right into the vegetable dish or serve alongside.

When you're opting for white meat, know that chicken breast and pork tenderloin cook fast in the oven with minimal fussing. Make sure to get your timing down to keep leaner cuts moist and tender—you don't want to overcook them. Our foolproof Roasted Chicken Breasts and Broiled Pork Tenderloin are two great go-to recipes. Seafood is one of the fastest cooking proteins, and there's no reason to be intimidated by the idea of cooking it, especially when armed with great recipes. Try baking fish in the oven with our Ginger Roasted Salmon, Baked Cod with Olives, or Fish en Papillote. Not in the mood to turn on the oven? Seafood also cooks fast on the stovetop—try Sautéed Shrimp or an Easy Skillet Poached Salmon. For red meat, go with leaner cuts like flank steak. This Soy-Marinated Flank Steak is packed with flavor yet versatile enough to go with a variety of sides.

Don't forget plant-based protein sources. Embrace versatile beans and legumes by cooking them from dry or opening a can and crisping or sautéing them. Try this Warm Lentil Salad, which also has another quick protein source an egg, make it optional if eggs aren't part of your plant-based diet.

Vegetable and Grain Sides

Once you have a nicely cooked protein, explore healthy sides that bring a flavor perspective to the meal. We suggest choosing ones that pack a punch and have delicious sauces and toppings for extra flavor. You can make your recipe as is, or amp up the taste of your overall dish by increasing the amount of glaze, toppings, or dressings so you have plenty to top your protein with, too—it's an easy way to tie the entire meal together. Get started with flavorful recipes like Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes and Miso-Watercress Green Beans. Turn on the oven for irresistible roasted vegetable sides such as Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Honey-Chipotle Glaze and Roasted Broccoli with Seeds and Feta. And don't overlook the power of a vibrant salad, even in the winter. Our Golden Beets with Citrus and Mint or Julienned-Carrot and Kale Salad are two guaranteed winners.

Consider completing a healthy meal with energy sustaining whole grains. One easy way to do that is to choose a side that has grains in it such as Rice Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Feta and Quinoa Salad with Zucchini Mint & Pistachios. Alternatively, mix them right into a vegetable side that you already like, or just serve on the side. Check out our guide to turning healthy whole grains into dinner for more inspiration and make-ahead grain tips.

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