10 Ways to Make Thanksgiving Side Dishes More Nutritious

Shandra Martinez

| 4 min read

While Thanksgiving is a day rooted in feelings of gratitude, the holiday’s food component is all about abundance. And when the traditional feast centers around foods like mashed potatoes pooled in butter, big puddles of gravy and pie slices topped with whipped cream, the thing you might be most thankful for after that dinner is your pair of sweatpants. But don’t despair. There are lots of ways to get healthy Thanksgiving side dishes on your table.
Here are some of our favorite ways to serve up healthy foods for the holidays:
1. Swap the green bean casserole
We know it’s a staple, but this is the year to skip the mushy beans drowning in canned soup and covered with greasy French-fried onion bits. Instead, trim the ends off fresh green beans and cook them quickly with a little extra-virgin olive oil in a hot skillet for just a few minutes. Take them off the heat when they are still bright green and half-crisp. Season them with salt and pepper or try a little dried dill and a squeeze of lemon for a bright flavor. Want to get fancy? Sauté them with a handful of sliced almonds.
2. Sweet potatoes
Mashed potatoes may be tradition, but sweet potatoes have so much more flavor. Don’t hide them in a marshmallow-topped casserole. Instead, bake them and then scoop out their creamy middles. Let your taste buds be your guide. Drizzle them with honey, sprinkle them with pepper or add a dab of almond butter for an unexpected flavor. Want more options? Check out these four recipes for sweet potato dishes by Shanthi Appelö, a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
3. Whole grain bread
Retire the gummy white bread and flavorless rolls. Instead, serve small pieces of a whole-grain bread from your local bakery. Look for kinds with seeds, or topped with rolled oats. Loaves with cranberries or raisins baked in have extra flavor.
4. Switch up
Hide the salad dressing bottles. If you offer bottles of ranch, blue cheese and French dressings, guests may overload their greens with extra saturated fat, sugars and calories. Instead, opt for a light vinaigrette and toss it into the salad right before serving. Here are some recipes for mason jar salad dressings.
5. Fruit salads
These healthy combos are always welcome, and yet so often they’re not served at Thanksgiving. Mix chunks of pear, apple and couple different kinds of berries together. Squeeze a quarter of a lemon over the bowl to prevent browning and sprinkle with a little cinnamon. Whether this is a side dish or a dessert, you can’t lose.
6. Freshen up your corn
Thanksgiving can mean creamed corn side dishes made with butter and cream. Lighten up this recipe by using a few fresh ears of corn and either grilling them or blackening them in a cast-iron skillet. Cut the cooked corn off the cob, dress it with a touch of olive oil and a little sea salt, a squeeze of lime and chili powder for a tantalizing taste. You can also check out dietitian Shanthi Appelo’s recipes for upscaled corn on the cob.
7. Roasted beets
Few vegetables look prettier on a table than roasted beets. They’re a cinch to roast in the oven until fork-tender, then cool before peeling off their skins. Their jewel-like color looks beautiful cut into chunks in a bowl or arranged in thick slices on a platter. Sprinkle them with feta and a few roasted pistachios. Looking for more choices? Dietitian Shanthi Appelo has you covered with these beet recipes. 
8. Ditch the dips
Creamy, meaty and cheesy dips all taste delicious, but people who nosh on these can rack up a meal’s worth of calories before they sit down to dinner. Instead, serve a few hard cheeses with different flavors. Complement them with small dishes of olives or dried fruits like apricots and dates.
9. Have a pickle
If you’re searching for something crunchy, don’t forget the pickles. Dill, sweet or bread-and-butter laced with mustard seeds and vinegar, there are lots of different flavors to choose from. Cucumbers are a low-calorie vegetable and a perfect way to take the edge of your hunger.
10. Bring the bubbles
Lots of holiday parties are bring-your-own-beverages. Why not arrive with a low-calorie or no-calorie assortment of fun, non-alcoholic carbonated waters? Mix up the flavors and create a fun area where people can pour their own bubbly drinks. Offer some cut-up fresh fruit, and wedges of lemon, lime and orange. This is party fun for all ages.
Photo credit: Getty Images

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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