7 Recipes To Bring Out The Healthier Side of Thanksgiving
Looking for a healthier approach to the holiday table — without sacrificing flavor? Check out these 7 Thanksgiving side dishes you’ll be pleased to serve seconds of.
ByTory L. Davis
A healthy Thanksgiving dinner can be a tough sell, both for enthusiastic cooks and the eager eaters gathered around the table. It’s the only American holiday that’s built entirely around a delicious meal — and it’s never been our style to skimp! We’re the nation of “more IS more,” between our giant SUVs and sky-high platters of pasta. A bit of decadence on Thanksgiving is a good thing (what’s our gratitude for?), but it’s also fair to want to walk away from the table feeling good — we'll leave the waddle for the turkey, thank you very much.
But here’s the good news: There’s no need to sacrifice bold flavor and a satisfying, luscious meal simply because you’re eating healthier. In the spirit of the American Dream, you can have it all this Thanksgiving: A table encircled by the people you love (and do your best to accept), and a delicious spread that reminds you of how truly fortunate you are.
The healthy Thanksgiving recipes below, singly or together, make for a fabulous feast and satisfy a range of dietary goals: to enjoy a rainbow of gorgeous veggies that are lower in fat and calories, gluten-free, occasionally dairy-free, paleo- and keto-friendly and — dare we say it — so delicious everyone might, just this once, agree to agree. On the food at least.
Baked Acorn Squash With Wild Rice, Pecan, And Cranberry Stuffing
This recipe unites two sides into one: A wild rice stuffing and nutty acorn squash create a more perfect union — and make Thanksgiving portion control easier to achieve since you can choose the size of the squash. However, if you’re serving vegetarians, a larger gourd deftly delivers a satisfying meatless main course. Pecans, cranberries, squash, and wild rice are (generally) non-GMO ingredients that are all native to North America — and together form a high-fiber, potassium- and protein-rich alliance that looks as lovely as it tastes.
Radicchio, a slightly bitter, jewel-toned Italian chicory, becomes crispy and mellowed out when it’s roasted on a sheet pan, providing the perfect contrast to other hearty, rich elements of the Thanksgiving table. It cooks quickly but is delicious at any temperature, making it easy to slide into the oven before guests arrive or while the turkey rests. A final drizzle of balsamic vinegar gives a kiss of sweetness to the crisp-edged leaves that even keto and paleo diets will smile at. Any variety of radicchio — the round head di Castelfranco or di Chioggia, or flatter di Treviso — will be delicious.
Golden Mashed Potatoes with Parsnips and Parsley
It’s not really Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes on your plate, but that innocent-looking tuber mountain can hide nearly a day’s worth of calories if it’s got enough dairy fat stirred into it. And while we live in an anti-carb world these days, potatoes themselves are actually a low-calorie, complex carbohydrate rich in minerals, Vitamins C and B6, and potassium. Parsnips add some iron and a hint of sweetness, and chicken stock replaces most of the traditional glut of cream and butter for a final dish that tastes decadent on the tongue — but is gentle on the waistline.
Thanksgiving Green Beans
Green bean casserole is a classic, but this is the year to ditch the “cream of” can and embrace the actual taste of green beans. They taste great when cooked tender-crisp and not drowned in high-sodium canned soup! And while this gluten-free recipe has a little bacon, at a quarter-pound divided amongst eight servings you get bacon in its proper place: a garnish that adds a decadent punch of flavor.
Crispy Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes
This showstopper looks fabulous on the table, yet is simple to prepare. A handful of whole ingredients comes together quickly for a side dish that is fragrant with rosemary, rich in Vitamin A and balanced out by the sweetness of the potatoes and elegant savory notes from sliced shallot. A healthy dusting of freshly cracked black pepper gives a gentle pop of heat to this elegant crowd pleaser (and is paleo- and Whole30-approved).
Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Apples
This earthy combination of roasted Brussels sprouts and apple, combined with cranberry, walnuts, and a final splash of maple syrup truly showcases the best flavors of fall. Natural notes of sweetness don’t overpower the crispy little sprouts, but instead create a balanced, bright little dish that stands to win over even the most cruciferous-cautious diner. And with so much iron and so little fat in each bite, it appeals to vegans and the calorie conscious alike. Even kids can be convinced to try a bite or two once you point out the toasty apples and maple syrup.
Dandelion and Grapefruit Salad
A salad at Thanksgiving, while not the most traditional dish, can feel refreshing and cleansing on this national day of overeating. The bright citrus pop of winter pink grapefruit, seasonal sparkling-ruby-red pomegranate seeds, and peppery green leaves of calcium-rich dandelions make a fresh addition to the holiday table. Tossed with a simple olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing (with a little mustard and honey stirred in), this light yet mineral-rich dish becomes a nutrition powerhouse — and a satisfying antidote to a plate piled mile high.