20 Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes for Almost Any Dietary Restriction
For many people—myself included—the sides are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. My mouth is already watering thinking about a mound of perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts and satisfying sweet potatoes.
While most holiday dishes are loaded with butter and sugar, those two ingredients aren't a requirement for a delectable dish. In fact, here are 20 healthy side dishes for a variety of dietary needs that not only get my nutritionist stamp of approval, but also will steal the show at your Thanksgiving dinner.
1. Mushroom gravy with thyme
Rather than just using a traditional base of turkey parts and cornstarch, this rich gravy incorporates extra veg with cremini mushrooms. Mushrooms are an excellent source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which protect against premature aging and help fend off chronic disease.
2. Olive oil mashed potatoes
If you're a mashed potatoes lover looking for a healthier alternative, this recipe is about as better-for-you as it gets. It uses creamy Yukon gold spuds as the base and trades heavy dairy for olive oil, garlic, and herbs.
Olive oil makes this dish vegan-friendly. An added bonus: olive oil may also help protect against disease. Research out this year found that natural compounds in olive oil called polyphenols help counteract aging and protect against chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's.
3. Orange-clove party nuts
Seasoned with ground cloves and orange zest, this keto-friendly recipe combines a cup of mixed nuts with just a few teaspoons of sugar and a splash of orange juice concentrate.
Apart from healthy fats and plant-based protein, nuts are also associated with longevity. One older study evaluated more than 7,000 adults between the ages of 55 years and 80 years and found that those who consumed more than three 1-ounce servings of nuts per week had a 39% lower overall mortality risk compared to those who rarely or never ate nuts.
4. Beet and apple salad
This combination of oven-roasted red beets topped with crisp green apple slices and chopped pistachios is a perfect addition to any holiday spread. It also happens to be incredibly nutrient-rich, as beets, apples, and pistachios are all chock-full of antioxidants.
Additionally, beets provide B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. Meanwhile, apples are rich in filling fiber. And as for pistachios, recent research has found that they are associated with a reduced BMI.
5. Carrots with tahini dressing
Cooked carrots are a Thanksgiving staple, but rather than slathering them in butter, this recipe calls for seasoned tahini. Tahini's main ingredient, sesame seeds, are loaded with minerals like manganese and magnesium, both of which are important for bone health.
Plus, two tablespoons of the puree provide 5 grams of plant-based protein and 3 grams of fiber. It also has about half the sodium that's found in butter, containing just about 50 mg, or a mere 2% of the daily recommended limit for healthy adults.
6. Roasted cauliflower with green olives and pine nuts
Cauliflower is a go-to veg for low-carb and keto fans alike. One cup of cauliflower provides 3 grams of net carbs, with net carbs meaning the amount of carbs absorbed from the GI tract that can be used for energy. Cauliflower also has over 75% of your recommended daily vitamin C intake. This recipe is also packed with healthy fats—which boost antioxidant absorption—thanks to extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, green olives, and capers.
7. Winter slaw with cabbage and kale
Chilled slaw can be a welcomed addition to a Thanksgiving menu full of piping hot sides. This version marries shredded kale, cabbage, and carrots with a sour cream and mayo mixture. Vinegar, seasonings, and toasted pumpkin seeds add a burst of flavor. One serving provides just 159 calories and 4 grams of net carbs.
8. Citrus salad with spiced honey
Thanksgiving side dishes don't have to be limited to veggies and grains. This gorgeous platter of immune-supporting oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, limes, and kumquats is flavored with a merry mix of seasonings that include cinnamon, which has been found to help regulate blood sugar levels.
9. Vegan Mediterranean lentil soup
Soup is the ultimate comfort food, and this vegan version can even serve as a plant-based turkey alternative. One serving provides 13 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber. Plus, its main ingredients, lentils, has been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease.
10. Glazed onion foil packs
This side can be served as is or used to garnish other sides, like roasted carrots or salads. To make it, simply season sweet onions with salt, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar, and then grill them in foil until tender. Garnish with fresh thyme.
In addition to being low in calories, onions are one of the best sources of prebiotics, which are foods that feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts. Called probiotics, these bacteria play important roles in our digestive health, immune function, and mood.
11. Apple spice hummus
This recipe calls for pureeing chickpeas with unconventional—but perfectly festive—ingredients, including chopped apple, peanut butter, and apple pie spice. Serve it as a side with carrots or whole grain crackers.
Research has found that people who consume chickpeas and/or hummus are more likely to have lower BMIs and waist measurements compared to those who don't eat them.
12. Roasted fennel and Brussels sprouts
Almost half of the carbohydrates in this recipe—a whopping 10 grams—are fiber, meaning just one serving packs about 35% of your daily requirement of this key nutrient. Plus, the star ingredient, Brussels sprouts, are cruciferous vegetables, which have been associated with reduced inflammation and a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. They're also packed with immune-supporting vitamin C and vitamin K, for healthy bones.
13. Oven-roasted sweet potato wedges
This vegan and gluten-free sweet potato recipe swaps butter for garlic-flavored olive oil to make crispy wedges with tender insides. Loaded with vitamin A, sweet potatoes support eye health and immune function. They also provide manganese, a mineral needed to produce collagen for healthy skin and joints.
14. Steamed green beans with rosemary-garlic vinaigrette and fried shallots
One 3/4-cup portion of this scrumptious dish provides just 10 grams of net carbs, with a plethora of satisfying seasonings, including garlic, which helps support immune function. The side's chief ingredient—fresh green beans—supplies fiber and vitamins A, C, B9, and B2. Green beans also have crucial minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
15. Clementine, date, and port cranberry relish
Unlike canned cranberry sauces—which use high-fructose corn syrup—this boozy relish balances the tartness of cranberries with the sweetness of port, dates, clementines, and a bit of sugar. For an alcohol-free version, use grapefruit juice instead.
Research indicates cranberries not only reduce the risk of recurring urinary tract infections in women, but also manage cardiovascular risk factors, like blood pressure, BMI, and cholesterol levels, in young adults.
16. Broccoli rabe with orange and sesame
A half-cup serving of this keto-friendly side has just 2.4 grams of net carb and 4 grams of fat. Like its cruciferous cousin Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe is busting with antioxidants. It's also rich in fiber; vitamins A, C, and K; as well as an array of minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.
17. Fig and walnut wild rice dressing
This hearty, gluten-free dish, incorporates two jubilant holiday ingredients—figs and walnuts—along with wild rice, a whole grain alternative to traditional refined white bread stuffing.
Consuming about two to three servings of whole grains a day has been found to help prevent a variety of health conditions, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain digestive cancers.
18. Roasted mushroom medley
This vegan dish only has 65 calories and is flavored with heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil. It's also super low in carbs, at just 3 grams of net carbs. Plus, mushrooms are the only plant-based source of vitamin D, a nutrient needed for bone density, muscle function, and a healthy immune system.
19. Spinach salad
This simple, light salad has just 61 calories per serving. Plus, it can be prepped in minutes, making it perfect for balancing carb-heavier sides, which typically require more labor.
Spinach is also an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-packed leafy green that offers a variety of key nutrients including fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamin K. A recent study also found that one cup of leafy greens a day was associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
20. Roasted red potatoes
Unlike traditional mashed potatoes which can feel heavy, this roasted version—made with olive oil and rosemary—will leave you feeling satisfied, but not sluggish. Plus, research shows that enjoying taters with the skins boosts their antioxidant potency almost 12 times.
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