Unusual recipes

16 Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

16 Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Do you have a Friendsgiving tradition? I attended our annual Thanksgiving with friends (otherwise known as Friendsgiving!) yesterday and my belly is still recovering from the second round. I’d regret not going back for more, though. No regrets here. Nope, not a one.

We had a potluck feast of mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, wild rice casserole, two big green salads and homemade challah. We followed that up with pecan pie, pumpkin cheesecake (!!!), cranberry-apple crumble bars, apple pie, whipped cream and ice cream. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. It was all amazing.

Oh yeah, there was smoked turkey and ham. As the token vegetarian in the group, I passed on those. Laura emailed me the other day and asked for tips on how to eat less meat and more healthy, produce-driven meals during family get-togethers. I know firsthand how challenging it can be to eat well in small towns and amongst those who are more accustomed to the standard American diet. I thought I’d address those issues here, since we’re heading right into holiday season.

Here’s my main tip for “surviving” the holidays as a vegetarian, or for cooking for vegetarians during the holidays: don’t worry about the main dish. I put “surviving” in quotes because there is so much food available during the holidays! There’s no way we’re going hungry, even if we don’t eat the turkey. Personally speaking, I didn’t give up meat so I could eat vegan meatloaf or processed meat substitutes. Side dishes are way more fun!

I don’t think vegetarians are the only ones who agree with me. I looked around at the plates last night and turkey didn’t take up a large portion of anyone’s plate. I confidently declare that side dishes, collectively, are the main attraction at Thanksgiving. Those side dishes can be especially nutritious if they’re made with protein-rich whole grains, vegetables, leafy greens, beans and quality dairy products.

Sometimes just a few simple substitutions can make side dishes more filling and nutritious, not to mention delicious. Examples include choosing brown rice instead of white, buying less processed cream of mushroom soup for the green bean casserole (or making your own) and adding more vegetables where you can. If nothing else, offer to bring a hearty green salad and fill half of your plate with it.

If you’re serving vegetarians/vegans and want to accommodate, we would love it if you would choose vegetable broth instead of chicken broth when you’re making the stuffing. For vegans/dairy-free eaters, you might also offer cheese on the side, rather than tossing it in like you normally would. For gluten-free eaters, you might offer croutons on the side. Most of us don’t want you to cook something special for us, though—we just want to know which dishes we should avoid.

If you’re traveling to a small town for your Thanksgiving feast, you might want to bring some ingredients with you. Nuts and whole grains travel well, as do wholesome snacks like granola bars and apples. I find it really helpful to have some snacks available when hunger strikes so I don’t end up scarfing down four biscuits for breakfast. If you’re driving and worried about finding fresh produce when you arrive at your destination, you could even bring a cooler packed with your preferred ingredients.

If your goal is to simply see more vegetables and wholesome options on the table, I have a wide variety of options for you here! Adding some super enticing, healthy side dishes like these to the Thanksgiving table might just entice your more traditional family members to find a new favorite. They might realize that they really love roasted vegetables. Or that they’ve been missing out on kale salads.

Note that I’m not recommending that you take away their turkey or favorite side dishes. Just add healthier options to the mix and see what happens! “Healthy” no longer means fat-free and flavorless, and you can prove it with these sides. Check out my suggestions below, and view my full side dish collection here.

1) Roasted Carrots with Farro, Chickpeas & Herbed Crème Fraîche

Easily vegan

Now here’s a show stopper. If you really want to offer a “main” to vegetarians, make it this one. Just make sure it doesn’t get gobbled up by everyone else first!

2) Quinoa Salad with Roasted Sweet Potato, Kale & Pesto Vinaigrette

Gluten free and vegan

Here’s the first of many hearty salad options, featuring crouton-like roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa and kale tossed in a bold herbed dressing.

3) Arugula, Dried Cherry and Wild Rice Salad with a Zippy Lemon Dressing

Gluten free and easily vegan

This salad gets rave reviews. I’d sure be happy to find it on the Thanksgiving table!

4) Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Gluten free and easily vegan

If you’re making this soup or my pumpkin soup (below), I’d recommend making it the day before. It tastes even better the next day and will only require one burner to reheat on the stove.

5) Quinoa Broccoli Slaw with Honey-Mustard Dressing

Gluten free

This zippy broccoli and quinoa salad is a crowd pleaser that just-so-happens to be bursting with nutrients.

6) Balsamic Butternut, Kale and Cranberry Panzanella

Easily vegan

Here’s a fun, colorful and hearty salad option. This one requires the oven, so it would be a great option to prepare at home and bring with you to the big event.

7) Colorful Beet Salad with Carrot, Quinoa & Spinach

Gluten free and easily vegan

Could this salad be any prettier?

8) Butternut Tabbouleh

Easily vegan

Here’s my wintertime take on one of my favorite salads, tabbouleh.

9) Favorite Green Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Pepitas

Gluten free and easily vegan

This green salad was a big hit at my Thanksgiving festivities last year!

10) Creamy Roasted Brussels Sprout and Quinoa Gratin

Easily gluten free

Now here’s a dish I’d eat as a “main.” This gratin is creamy, rich but redeeming, since it’s full of vegetables and quinoa.

11) Herbed Quinoa and Pomegranate Salad

Easily vegan

I love this light and fresh quinoa salad.

12) Autumn Kale Salad with Fennel, Honeycrisp and Goat Cheese

Easily vegan

Yet another awesome, fall-appropriate kale salad. My kitchen assistant’s family makes this for all of their family events!

13) Creamy Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Gluten free and vegan

This simple, super creamy pumpkin soup is just right. Serve it in mugs to conserve valuable table real estate.

14) Cranberry-Maple Skillet Cornbread


This is my favorite cornbread! It is made with browned butter and develops irresistibly crispy edges as the batter bakes against a hot skillet. You can skip the cranberries for traditional cornbread, if you’d prefer.

15) Rosemary Parmesan Sweet Potato

Gluten free

Here’s a simple and outrageously delicious side dish.

16) Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries with Barley

Easily vegan

This stunner is loaded with flavor, from the caramelized sprouts to the burst cranberries. You can skip the grains for a simple, light side dish.

More resources you might appreciate: 13 healthy make-ahead breakfast recipes, 16 recipes that pack well for lunch and 20 simple weeknight dinners. You might also like my monthly seasonal produce guides and healthy kitchen essentials. View all roundups and resource posts here.

Watch the video: 3 Healthy Holiday Side Dish Recipes (December 2021).