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.
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.
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!
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