The Rule of Three: Protein, Starch and Veg

This post is for Courtney because I owe her several recipes and she can’t use her oven right now.  (True. Funny story.  And kinda my fault.)

Menu planning is actually pretty simple if you follow what I like to call the Rule of Three.  Think of it as the Garanimals of menu planning.  A well-balanced meal should contain a protein (tiger), starch (panda) and a vegetable (monkey).

When I create my list for the week, (yes, I only shop on Saturdays,) I think about our schedule and what we ate last week – repeats get boring, fast.  Then I take our budget into consideration and begin planning.  I mix and match from the list below:

Protein (tiger)
Beef – ground, steak, stew
Chicken – whole, breasts, thighs
Turkey – ground
Seafood – shrimp, scallops
Pork – bacon, sausage
Other – eggs

Starch (panda)

Vegetable, currently in-season (monkey)
Greens – chard, kale
Red and Yellow Peppers
Green Beans

For example:

Dinner #1    Dinner #2    Dinner #3               Dinner #4             Dinner #5
Shrimp        Steak               Ground Turkey    Whole Chicken    Pork Sausage
Rice              Quinoa           Couscous                Potatoes                Pasta
Broccoli      Chard             Beets                         Carrots                  Peppers

Dinner #1 – boiled crack and peel shrimp with steamed rice and broccoli
Dinner #2 – grilled steak with quinoa and sautéed chard
Dinner #3 – turkey meatballs with couscous and steamed beets
Dinner #4 – roasted chicken and potatoes with steamed carrots
Dinner #5 – stir-fry sausage with peppers and onions and pasta

However, Dinner #1 could just as easily be shrimp, pasta and chard.  Or #2 could be steak with couscous and carrots.  Sometimes you get lucky and can combine two or three into a one or two pot meal, i.e. chicken pot pie, Sheppard’s pie, fried rice, beef stew or tacos.

I tend to use onions like condiments.  In each of these five meals above, I would use an onion at some point to season, blend or cook with.  This gives each meal a little extra depth and you can either discard them before serving (if you sautéed, roasted or boiled the meal) or chop them into little bits so they break down and are disguised.

I also like to experiment with different seasonings and oils.  Last week I added a touch of cinnamon to the steamed zucchini and squash.  I’ve added nutmeg to the quinoa and lemon zest to the broccoli.  Don’t be afraid to try different flavor combinations!

I’m a big fan of dessert too – even though we don’t have one after every meal.  Sometimes our desserts are as simple as fresh fruit over ice cream or a biscuit.  During the winter, I like to bake fruit like apples in the toaster oven.  Just slice them in half, core them and add a little butter, brown sugar and some raisins.  Bake them at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Then serve them plain or with whipped cream.

2 comments on “The Rule of Three: Protein, Starch and Veg

  1. cousin courtney
    November 7, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    thank you heather!! 🙂 this is my favorite post so far! .. i TRY to shop once a week too (it saves my sanity).. but i get frustrated trying to plan it all and end up asking the kids (who say spaghettitacos- yes that’s one word).. the rule of 3 makes some sense, honestly, it makes coming up with ideas somehow simple! i wanna say D’OH! .. cinnamon on the squash huh? interesting- i will try it (i love cinnamon & put it in my coffee every morning).. and i love nutmeg in potato soup.. i have so many different oils for all my salad dressings & i find myself using them randomly in dishes too (especially the peanut & toasted sesame oil).. i’m gonna take your advice and experiment- and try couscous again with whatever* i* want this time- i’ve tried a few recipes but they weren’t all that (or i just don’t like couscous!) .. oh- and the blueberry ice-cream topping idea you gave me last summer (the one you simmer on the stove) is soo good! especially since my neighbor gave me tons of blueberries! to me dessert usually involves chocolate…i’m coming around!


  1. Easy Meal Prep for the Week | - June 21, 2016

    […] groove, this step will become easier. You might also be able to come up with a list of go-to protein-starch-veggie combos that you can buy and cook in advance and invent meals of your […]

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