Use these healthy recipes to incorporate the “rule of three” into your plate

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Like many cooks, I watched a lot of cooking shows during the pandemic. My favorite show: the 18 seasons of “Hell’s Kitchen”. In addition to constantly berating his chefs and throwing them out of his kitchen, Gordon Ramsay orchestrated challenges designed to enhance a specific area of ​​the candidates’ culinary expertise.

One particular challenge intrigued me, and I quickly replicated it in my own kitchen. Ramsay’s competitors spun three wheels, each containing ingredients separated by category: protein, vegetables, and starches. No matter how irrational the combination was, competitors had to highlight these three ingredients by Ramsay’s standards.

I don’t know how often the halibut, eggplant, and lentils were used together, but this was one of the many odd combinations I made from my random selection of ingredients. Not only did it teach me to cook with limited food options, it changed my perspective on what foods I store in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, and ultimately what foods to serve together.

In college, I learned to master the “rule of three” of effective meal preparation, finding three of the healthiest, most sustainable foods that will simplify anyone’s week.


Here are some ways to mix and match different proteins, vegetables, and starches at Syracuse University:


This is a category that I think would challenge me the most in college. I’m a pescatarian, limiting my options to seafood, which can be more expensive than standard meats. However, I have built up a wide variety of protein using meat substitutes such as tofu and tempeh.

For fish, I recommend buying it frozen and in large quantities as it can last over a month in the freezer. The same ideology applies when preparing meals with meats. Ideally, you want to find your two favorite fish; I tend to use a leaner white fish – cod or plaice are easy choices – and a thicker fillet like salmon, my favorite. Canned fish like tuna and salmon are also easy alternatives to cooked protein, and they’re easy to store because they don’t expire for years.

Tofu is also an underrated protein that I cook about twice a week. I prefer to use it over tempeh as it is precooked so all I do is either cut the tofu into cubes or scramble it into small pieces and get it nicely browned. A tofu press is a great hands-free way to drain out the portion of tofu you want.

Vegetables :

Stocking up on a wide variety of vegetables will make it easier to prepare your meals. You don’t have to overload the freshest produce – some spoil quickly – and you certainly don’t need more than eight to 10 types of vegetables in your fridge. Just like protein, it’s important to know which ones to buy fresh and which ones can be kept in the pantry or freezer.

The two must-haves for fresh vegetables are spinach and lettuce because of their versatility and because you usually don’t have to cook them. Peppers are a close third, but they take a bit longer to chop and clean. For more hearty vegetables like carrots and broccoli, you can opt for fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables. (Yes, canned and freeze-dried broccoli does exist!) Both can be eaten raw and they are easy to get out of the freezer since you can simply throw them on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Beans and corn are best when canned, as are green beans and other lighter, smaller vegetables, which last a little over a week when raw.


Starches take the longest to cook, but they are the easiest ingredients to store in the refrigerator and cook in large batches. They also provide a nutritional benefit to any meal that is often overlooked by students. Whether you’re cooking rice, quinoa, or even potatoes, every major starch requires a very similar cooking process.

Rice and quinoa – the easiest and most versatile bases and starchy sides to satisfy any meal – are cooked exactly the same, with different cooking times. Quinoa takes the least time on the stove. To last a week, I usually cook three-quarters to a cup of quinoa. The same goes for rice, and I also like to mix them together.

For quinoa, the quinoa / water ratio I use is one cup of quinoa to 1 3/4 cups of water. For rice, I use one cup of rice for two cups of water. Add the grains and water to a medium saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer until cooked through, usually when the water is absorbed and the kernels have expanded. The taste test is usually a reliable checker of doneness – the grains should be soft and moist but not mushy in consistency. When finished, turn off the heat, remove the pan from the hot burner and steam for a maximum of 10 to 12 minutes.

With these three food groups, the possibilities for different meals are endless. They each vary in terms of cooking time and flavor and can be interchangeable with almost any protein, vegetable, or starch. Here are some of my recipes to try for yourself:

Seared halibut with broccoli and rice
– Pat the halibut dry and season with salt and pepper. Additionally, oil and heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
– Place the halibut on the pan and cook for about three to four minutes on each side. Cook the halibut until firm and golden.
– Meanwhile, cook frozen broccoli in microwave according to package specifications or on stovetop until thawed and hot.
– Heat the rice in the microwave for 30 to 40 seconds.

Seared salmon with sautéed asparagus, Brussels sprouts and quinoa
– Cut the Brussels sprouts in thirds and cut off the hard ends of the asparagus. Add to a medium oiled pan over medium-high heat.
– Meanwhile, take out a pre-thawed salmon fillet and dry it with paper towels and season with pepper.
– Remove the vegetables once they have taken color and are soft.
– Add more oil to the pan, if necessary. Salt the salmon and immediately place it skin side down on the pan. Cook for three minutes per side – add or subtract a minute for thicker or thinner fillets.
– Let stand for one to two minutes then serve.

Quinoa Fried Tofu Salad
– Chop the lettuce and spinach in the size of your choice and add them to the bowl
– Coat the bottom of a pan with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Cut a third of a block of tofu into cubes and season with salt and pepper.
– Add the tofu to the pan and rotate it on all sides for a crisp and golden exterior. Once all sides are golden, turn off the heat and place the tofu cubes on a paper towel to dry. Immediately salt the tofu.
– Heat the quinoa in the microwave for 30 to 40 seconds.
– Mix the ingredients in the bowl and serve.

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