Pardon the play on words but side dishes are moving into the mainstream.

The Food Channel (TFC), Chicago, released its top ten side dish trends and notes that side dishes have become more than a side factor at meal times.

“Side dishes used to be one of those things you could ignore,” said Kay Logsdon, editor in chief ofThe Food Channel . “They were just ‘there.’ But lately we’ve noticed that side dishes are a prominent part of the meal-to the point of overtaking the center-of-the-plate.” 

“In a hurting economy, anything that stretches the meal is in high favor," she added. "The rise in ethnic influences, regional dishes, and fresh seasonal availability has all influenced this trend.”

The Food Channel says it prepares it food trend reports with three other researchers CultureWaves, Mintel International, and the International Food Futurists. Officials noted that appetizer and side dish processor McCain Foods USA, Lisle, Ill., sponsored the study.

Carole McCarthy is McCain Foods' director of marketing.

“Side dishes are really starting to get some attention, especially the consumer interest in sweet potatoes, and are growing in importance and prominence on today’s menus," she says. "As the industry leader across the category, we are excited to sponsor and provide recipes for the top ten side dish trend feature onThe Food Channel."

The top side dish trends include:

Intentionally Seasonal. Consumers have become more intentional about eating with the seasons. TFC believes "it’s because we recognize the sheer joy that comes from freshly picked vegetables and fruits shining up from a side dish."

Grow Your Own. Whether it’s a back yard affair, a community garden, or produce from a community supported agriculture farm, gardens are big.

A Toast to Roasted. Roasted is the new grilled, the new fried, the “why didn’t we think of this before” preparation that adds a depth of flavor to side dishes.

You Say Potato.  In fact, say it over and over again, because potatoes are creeping back onto our plates. But, they are healthier and more interesting, and - if you’ve noticed - more likely to be sweet potatoes than anything else.

Rice is Nice. New whole grain rice blends are shaking up the side of the plate with fancy risottos and new strains. Black rice, red rice, all of a sudden, it seems, there is a plethora of new varieties.

The New American Regional. It may be nostalgia, it may be wanderlust. Whatever the reason, people love to know the food’s history. And side dishes are just full of great stories and regional influences.

Taking Root. No longer relegated to cold-weather-only status, root veggies are now available year-round and appreciated for their hearty flavor, versatility -- and, oh yeah, the price is right for these tough economic times.

Ethnic Side Lines. During the past several years, consumers have embraced ethnic main dishes to the point of fully acclimating them into the American menu. Well, now we’re beginning to notice those things on the side.

The Incredible Shrinking Protein.We’ve pushed protein to the side and elevated, well, the side. As that happens, the side dishes grow in variety and stature.

Color Is Hot. These days it's all about purple cauliflower, purple potatoes, and corn. Consumers are learning that brightly colored fruits and vegetables are often the healthiest--loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients.