Dinner for Two

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Dear Kristin,

Is “Meat and Three” a thing outside of the South? Is there a diner near you with a name like “Big Ed’s” or “Arnold’s Country Kitchen,” where you can pick up a xeroxed menu from the counter and choose fried chicken or a slice of meatloaf and three vegetables to go along with it–say, collard greens, potato salad and pickled beets–all for $8.99? 

Restaurants like that are everywhere around here. Back in the day, they were a great place to eat out as a family, especially on the road. Jack and Will loved them because in an authentic meat and three place, the vegetables on offer included mac and cheese, apple sauce and deviled eggs. Yeah, I don’t know why mac and cheese is considered a vegetable, either. It just is. 

Photo by Walker Evans, Library of Congress

What does this do with how dinnertime since our nest has emptied out? Well, when the boys were still around and still regulars at the dinner table, there were only so many vegetables I could make with any assurance they’d be eaten by my children: Green beans, green peas, lettuce, spinach, potatoes in most forms (fried was a particularly popular option). I pushed the broccoli pretty hard and had some modest successes with it, but no one was happy to see it on their plate except me.

The vegetables in those days were always a side dish. Meat and pasta were the stars. Occasionally something like twice-baked potatoes took center stage, and Jack always loved my potato soup (from a recipe I clipped out of Family Circle back in the day), but these were the exceptions that proved the rule. Not to mention they were potato dishes. Potatoes are like the ice cream sandwiches of the vegetable world. Who doesn’t like a potato, especially when butter and cheddar cheese is involved?

These days I have happily entered into the world of Meat and Three, where the veg is the star of the show. We still eat meat, but we’re finally doing what the experts say is best–the meat has become more or less a condiment. For Clifton, this is like going back to his childhood days in Charlotte. The Southern plate, especially the working class Southern plate, was always piled high with leafy greens and vegetables because they were cheap and nutritious, and if you cooked them up with some fatback and served them with cornbread, they were utterly delicious. 

The traditional meat and three dinner is one I’m more likely to serve on Sunday. Think: Roast pork loin or roast chicken with collards, roasted sweet potatoes and roasted asparagus in season. During the week, the ways I typically meat-and-three-it are with stir fries and sheet bakes. Both are great ways to do something with the broccoli, bok choy and red peppers that are nearing the end of their shelf life in my fridge. With the sheet bake, I can use whatever’s left over from my weekly produce box that would taste great roasted (and what doesn’t taste great roasted?).

I love that we’re getting at least one big serving of vegetables a day. I also love that a meat-and-three dinner is always easy and always tastes great. But probably what I love most of all is cooking dinner that everybody–all two of us–will love. I’m a much happier cook these days, that’s for sure. 

What’s been on your dinner table lately?


P.S. Hello to all you wonderful readers–thanks for your enthusiastic comments on our first post! Please note that for the time being, we plan on publishing new posts on Fridays. Once we get our sea legs, we may post more frequently.

Dear Frances,

I had never heard the phrase “Meat and Three” until I was an adult! Instead, we coined the term “Triangle Dinner” in my home which means meat, starch, and a veggie. I kind of admire that “Meat and Three” includes an extra vegetable!

In our home, most “Triangle Dinners” are cooked by my husband, and the piece of meat is usually grilled (grilling meat is something that I continue to claim complete ignorance about). As you know, my husband is extremely helpful in the kitchen, and I would argue is actually the better cook. However, I, like most women, have always carried the responsibility of being “in charge” of dinner. This includes menu planning, making shopping lists, and generally carrying the metal load of feeding the family. We’ve talked about this recently, and since he loves to cook, he’s game to start the shift of carrying more of that mental load of feeding us. I’m excited about this new chapter!

I admire that you are making more of a shift to lots of veggies and less meat. That has been less of a priority to me than figuring out ways to cook less. Out of seven days in the week, I only want to figure out four different dinners and make sure that we have leftovers for the other nights. That has been harder than I thought since we also like to eat leftovers for lunch. Sometimes I have to hide leftovers in our garage refrigerator so that we stay out of them! Figuring out what to eat at lunch (if not leftovers) has had a bit of a learning curve. I lean on big salads and sometimes eggs (I miss eating eggs since I started intermittent fasting and skip breakfast).

This week has been a good example of a different dinner strategy – cook once and make three different dinners. Hubby grilled a pork loin one night (with Trader Joe’s rice pilaf and roasted asparagus to complete the triangle). A couple of days later we sliced it thin and made BBQ pork sandwiches, and the last of the pork loin went on a main dish salad the next day.

I like to try to fit in a day or two of vegetarian meals each week as well. This week it’s omelets with goat cheese and asparagus, And remember when you shared this recipe of sweet potato and black bean bowls with me? That’s in our rotation year-round now – such a favorite! (But trust me that she’s right about making sure to use full-fat mayo in the dressing. I only made that mistake once!)

I agree that it’s so much easier cooking for two than for five people with widely different tastes! I miss those family dinners, but don’t miss the complicated meal planning!

xo, Kristin

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  • Jean Etheridge

    The last few years that I taught school, my husband worked from home primarily. His coffee breaks became quick trips to the grocery to pick up dinner supplies, and he would start dinner. When I got home, I was stressed out (the last few years of teaching made miserable by the higher ups, testing, and ridiculous paperwork) so he would send me upstairs for quilt therapy. He also would fit in laundry and vacuuming to get up and away from his desk. Now that we are retired, he still does all of the laundry, the vacuuming (lots of pug hair), and most of the cooking. He started doing all of the shopping during the pandemic. I did all of it when our two daughters were home, but no more.

  • Wendy

    I’ve never heard of Meat with Three, so maybe it is more of a Southern term? Now that we are just the two of us, I am trying to downsize our meals along with eating smaller portions (we both need to lose some weight). Hubs is a big guy, 6’6″, so he eats quite a bit. We like sheet pan dinners, he loves to grill, so we often just do meat with veggies on the grill. Sometimes we just have a light snack for dinner – it depends on the day. More often than we should, we pop out for a meal at a restaurant with a nice patio. That season, however, is soon coming to a close.

    • Frances

      I love veggies on the grill! And I would love to pop out more for dinner, but we never end up doing that (we do get takeout once a week). My older son Jack has tree nut allergies, so we were always nervous about eating out. But maybe we’ll start doing that more now? I hope so! xofrances

  • Kelly V

    Two new phrases – meat and three and sheet bake. At first I thought you were having cake at each dinner. I think meat and 3 explains the old Kenny Rogers restaurant that used to exist out here. I remember picking a meat and 3 sides! Oh – triangle dinner. Never heard that phrase either although I confess – that’s how dinners look at this house too.

  • Holloway Vicki

    I have just discovered sheet pan dinners and we have also scaled way back on the amount of meats and mire veg. However, since the kids left, my husband and I are at the age where we have to eat better to he healthy. To solve our over cooking problem, and as a luxury we started using hime chef 3x a week ans are thinking about doing 5 meals a week. It’s portioned , healthy and I don’t stress about making everyone happy because even when I burn dinner. Ps meat plus three is new to me! Typical Midwest is the triangle dinner or one pot meals is what we had often growing up. Love the blog!

    • Frances

      A home chef sounds divine!

      I grew up with triangle meals, and I love making one pot meals now. Anything that only uses one pot or pan is great!


  • Robin A Leftwich

    Yes, I remember meat and three at a diner in Shelbyville, Ky, where my grandfather had a business. I always liked the sides best, and of course, Mac and cheese counts! In my house, we had a meat, a starch, a veggie, and a little salad. My mom actually thought a canned pear with a touch of mayo was a salad! To the present, my husband, son and I are tired of everything, so I end up making three dinners every night, a pasta or meat, salad and fruit or veg for the son, lox and bagel or little sandwiches for husband and green beans, squash, and a main for me. When I do make a dinner for all of us, everyone is happy!

    • Frances

      My younger son was an extraordinarily picky eater, so I often ended up usually either deconstructing whatever I was making for dinner so that he got a plate of (cooked) ingredients, all sitting at a safe distance from one another, while the rest of us ate the fully integrated dish. As he got older, I started just making him a chicken breast or pork chop plus a baked potato and a bunch of raw spinach. Dinner is much simpler now! xofrances

  • Annie Smith

    Cooking for two is the hardest part about being empty nesters. BigGuy is the chef at our home but he’s beginning to lose interest, as he’s done it our entire marriage. I can’t make lasagna without making three of them — one for tonight, and two to freeze (you never know when you have to take dinner to another family).
    A recipe for one of the dishes mentioned would be super cool 😎

    I so relate to EVERYTHING you’re talking about!

  • Patty

    Invite me over anytime you’ve got leftovers to spare – I love a good leftover meal! Growing up, Mom always served ‘triangle’ meals (although I never heard that term before today) and I continued the traditional with my kids with limited success when they were younger. … veggies were ignored (unless – who knew – mac & cheese actually counts.)

    Love the new blog!

    • Frances

      I love leftover meals too–and not just because it means I get to take a day off cooking. Just about everything’s better the next day! xofrances

  • Nancy A

    You are making me hungry! I lived in Nashville for 2 years in the late 70s and remember meat and three. And mac and cheese as a vegetable. Looking forward to your weekly blogs.

    • Frances

      Nashville is definitely the most famous meat-and-three state, though there’s no shortage of them here in NC. Meat and threes were where I first learned to embrace fried okra, something I’d never tried before college.

      Thanks for reading! xofrances

      • Gail in Washington State

        I have never heard of Meat and Three either, but that is how we eat. We don’t have potatoes, rice or pasta so I pile on the vegetables. I grow a big garden so there are lots to be had. We eat mostly chicken or fish..usually broiled. We have Meatless Monday and I have a great recipe for fake mashed potatoes made with cauliflower. Lunch is a huge salad. I intermittent fast, so just have 2 meals per day.

        • Frances

          Hey, Gail–both Kristin and I do IF, so if we eat breakfast, it’s for dinner! I have a good summer garden but also do a produce box from a local farm, which I love not only because the produce is super fresh, but also because I don’t know what the box will have. Right now it’s a lot of greens and sweet potatoes–heaven! xofrances

  • Frances in Wales

    Oh how I wish mac n cheese was a real vegetable… Actually, everyone in my little family would be ecstatic about that!

    I’m not familiar with ‘meat and three’ or ‘triangle dinner’ as terms, but it is the style of dinner I was raised with, and the style I tend to associate as being ‘real’ cooking for dinner. In reality I do a lot of crockpot/casserole/stir-fry type cooking – I haven’t got into sheet pan style yet, although I’d like to! Any tried and tested recipes gratefully received…

  • Marsha H

    I made your sweet potato & black bean bowls for Sunday dinner yesterday and it was a hit! I did throw some rotisserie chicken in with the veggies the last 5 minutes because my husband’s been in the combine all week eating cold meat sandwiches. We both really liked it.
    And their were leftover veggies-BONUS!!

  • Kati R.

    I never heard of meat and three either, but sounds like a great idea! Since I always lived in the Northeast (CT and NY) in the past 25 years it’s the first time I hear of it.
    I’ve been cooking for two for a long time, and the only time we didn’t have leftovers was the time I signed up for Hello Fresh during the pandemic, as my work was crazy busy, and I spent long hours at my job. I’ll be checking out the linked recipes!

  • Susan from Ohio

    I must admit that we eat out a lot more now. Our town has an inticing array of tasty family-owned restaurants that we can walk to. It’s more like dinner and a walk–and while the weather is nice lots of outdoor seating. Another delightful discovery is eating at the bar seating. Feels like something we decidedly couldn’t do when the kids were home. And when you get to chat with the barkeep and watch drinks being mixed, it’s like a walk, dinner, and a show.

    We’ve found it hard to eat the kitchen table now that the kids are gone. It hits a little hard that my darlings aren’t in “their spots” at meal time. I was finidng myself really blue looking at their empty chairs. As much as I hate to admit it that has often meant moving our plates to the family room and eating in front of the tv or leaning against the counter while we chat about our day. Both options would never have been a consideration when #1 son and light-of-my-life daughter were home.

    • Frances

      Yep, we’re doing the dinner + TV more these days too. That used to be a Saturday night treat for the family–get a pizza and watch a movie–but other than that, we were at the table–at least until high school sports and extracurriculars got in the way.

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