The Sides Are The Best Part Of Thanksgiving! 17 Healthier Swaps For The Classics
While I know that, theoretically, Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, I've always thought sides were the best part of the holiday. I grew up in a double-turkey kinda household—but even before I switched to a vegetarian lifestyle a decade ago, I always looked forward to the yams and stuffing more than the bird—and I don't think I'm alone in that.
This year, Thanksgiving (and the holiday season broadly) obviously looks different: Without big family gatherings, turkey might not even be happening for many people (after all, if you're only cooking for two, that's an awful lot of leftovers). So if you, like me, are opting for a sides-only celebration this year, I've got good news: It can still feel decidedly celebratory.
With some healthier alternatives to the classics and a few less conventional recipes, this list is a great place to start your menu planning. Just promise me you'll at least consider finishing things off with a healthy pumpkin pie, OK?
Instead of plain mashed potatoes, make...
...vegan mashed celery root And even though this dish is vegan - It is delicious!...vegan mashed celery root And even though this dish is vegan - It is delicious!
Swapping your classic mashed potatoes for a celery root mash is a great way to add more fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants without sacrificing the satisfying creaminess that comes from a good mashed spud. And even though this dish is vegan, a.bacon-y shredded sprouts.
combination of oat milk, turmeric, and nutritional yeast serves up further health benefits and a rich cheesy flavor.
...loaded smashed cauliflower.
If a cheesy mash isn't enough, go for this loaded version featuring our favorite multipurpose veggie: cauliflower. This keto-friendly dish is packed with flavor thanks to bone broth, garlic, and rosemary. The final addition of sour cream, cheddar cheese, and scallions makes for a creamy, but healthier, version of a mash.
Instead of sugary sweet potatoes, make...
Maple syrup and sweet potatoes just make sense together, but adding a touch of spice from chipotle totally adds a new dimension. Not only that, but recent studies have linked eating chili peppers to increased longevity—this dish is a great way to add them to your Thanksgiving table without overwhelming the other fall flavors.
The key to this luscious vegan soup is coconut milk. The simple yet delicious recipe calls for only eight ingredients, many of which you likely have in your pantry. Selective spices, namely ginger and turmeric, accent both the flavor and the vivid color of this soup, which will definitely make a statement on your Thanksgiving table.
What's better than a nutritious dish of sweet potatoes? One that also includes our favorite leafy green: kale. This dish also adds spiced flavors with a blend of sesame seeds, sumac, thyme, and garlic. Toasting the spices first ensures they reach their full potential.
Instead of a classic stuffing, make...
Classic stuffing usually includes decidedly non-ketogenic bread cubes. Instead of that, this recipe uses a variety of olives—black olives, kalamata olives, green olives—plus button mushrooms to create a super-flavorful stuffing, elevated by the flavors of coriander and cumin. We promise; you won't miss the bread.
The key to a good vegan stuffing is the same as any other stuffing: lots of fresh flavors. This version uses Ezekiel bread instead of white bread for extra nutrients, as well as some red quinoa. For flavor, it includes fennel, onions, apple, and spinach, plus a very classic Thanksgiving flavor: sage.
Instead of boring Brussels sprouts, make...
These spicy sprouts would work as a side dish or as part of a spread for starters: they're that snackable. From Whole30 founder Melissa Urban, this recipe features sprouts tossed in garlic and your choice of spice. Once again, you'll likely have the core ingredients in your pantry (garlic, chili powder, EVOO, salt, and pepper are essential kitchen items, if you ask me).
Adding bacon to Brussels sprouts for bonus saltiness is a popular Thanksgiving combination, but this recipe has a different spin with shredded sprouts. The benefit of boiling and then shredding these veggies is that cooking Brussels sprouts in hot water cuts their intrinsic bitterness. Plus, they can cook on the stovetop, freeing up the oven for other dishes.
Instead of old-school green bean casserole, make...
Traditionally this dish starts with a can of cream of mushroom soup, but this recipe opts for making your own mushroom sauce—packed with essential base flavors like onions, garlic, and chicken stock.
Topped with a crispy almond flour mixture, it's still got all the flavors of a classic green bean casserole but with a more health-conscious (and keto-friendly) spin.
This may seem a bit odd, but hear me out: While Thanksgiving tables are full of lovely rich foods, and even if you add a salad to the mix, a bit of pickled flavor might be just the ticket for a really well-rounded meal. These dilly beans are based on a cooking treatment popular in New England, where green (or yellow) beans are pickled with dill and other spices.
Instead of sad store-bought rolls, make...
Fluffy homemade popovers are a great alternative to rolls or biscuits on the Thanksgiving table. Their chewy texture usually comes from gluten, but this recipe instead uses a gluten-free flour blend of brown rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch, which provides their signature texture. Best part? They take only 20 minutes to make.
Flatbreads may not be what comes to mind for your spread, but these vegan ones make a great option for a super-quick addition. Plus, they can be made in small batches, which is great for this year.
All you need is self-raising flour (which you can DIY if you don't have it readily available), plant-based yogurt, and a bit of oil to make these fluffy vegan breads. Bonus points if you pair them with the aforementioned sweet potato hummus.
Add some extra veggies to the spread with...
I have two favorite things about fall farmers markets: The cool weather means they're less crowded, and nearly every vegetable in season is perfectly roast-able. Simple dishes are a perfect addition to Thanksgiving because, honestly? There's enough going on in the kitchen already. For this recipe, simply use whatever type of winter squash you find available.
If you're craving more umami on the table, these glazed mushrooms are just what you need. The perfect balance of sweet, salt, and depth of flavor in the glaze results in a rich flavor that will make a great centerpiece, or side, on a plant-based table.
Make a celebrity-endorsed salad that's sure to impress...
There's almost no one I trust more for a perfect recipe than the Barefoot Contessa herself. This kale and broccoli salad calls for all things homemade, from the dressing to the croutons. Honestly, I'm surprised she doesn't call for making the Parmesan yourself too—but the work is worth it for this truly amazing salad.
Roasted butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, and arugula are the building blocks of this ultimate salad. Tossed with a dressing of apple cider vinegar, mustard, and honey, the salad's sweet, savory, and tart is so well balanced it almost feels like a meal in itself.
So whether you're cooking up a meal for your quarantine pod or downsizing your favorite dishes for just yourself, this Thanksgiving feels like one where connecting the holiday with your favorite healthy foods is exactly the ticket to a celebratory day, even in this unprecedented year.
By: Eliza Sullivan