8 Thanksgiving Vegetable Side Dishes for a Healthy Feast

Explore these 8 side dish recipes to ensure you are cooking a well-balanced Thanksgiving meal this holiday season.

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by
Mia Barnes
— Signos
Staff Writer
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Reviewed by

Mia Barnes
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
November 5, 2023
— Updated:
November 6, 2023

Table of Contents

Thanksgiving is one of the most food-centered holidays in the U.S., but that shouldn’t worry your health this year. It’s easy to make healthy alternatives to high-carb or sugary holiday recipes. Enjoy your time with family and friends by making a few of these Thanksgiving vegetable side dishes for a healthy feast.

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What Are the Most Popular Side Dishes at Thanksgiving?

Many people look forward to specific foods when the winter holidays come around. The cool weather, gorgeous scenery, and festive atmosphere create the ultimate environment for indulging your tastebuds. Although you can eat delicious foods in healthy recipes, your loved ones may opt for other popular side dishes that appear on tables nationwide.

You’ve likely seen a few of these appetizers and side dishes in your own home. People look forward to Thanksgiving specifically to eat things like:

  • Mashed potatoes full of butter and sour cream
  • Thick dinner rolls slathered in butter
  • Gravy made from roasted turkey oils
  • Macaroni and cheese bubbling with oily cheese and butter
  • Cranberry sauce made with processed sugar

Research shows that in 2021, 77% of people looked forward to mashed potatoes the most.1 There’s no wrong way for your tastebuds to respond when eating savory foods made with love. Unfortunately, they aren’t always the best options for people with individual health goals.

The good news is you can have an equally enjoyable Thanksgiving this year by swapping unhealthy dishes for veggie-based alternatives. Consider making a few at home or bringing some to whoever’s hosting the holiday this year.

Easy Vegetable Sides for Thanksgiving

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You can always make healthy choices when eating main entrees like turkey or roast beef. Side dishes are typically the less-healthy additions that make Thanksgiving nutrition more complicated. Try making some of these Thanksgiving vegetable sides for this year’s meal to enjoy the holiday without working against your health goals.

1. Creamy Kale

Kale is an excellent place to start when researching ideas for Thanksgiving side dishes. It’s a highly nutritious vegetable packed with antioxidants that repair damaged cells.2 It’s also high in fiber, so you’ll feel full longer after pairing it with your turkey. You and your family can enjoy these delicious greens on the big holiday or any time of year. Not a kale salad fan? Replace arugula or spinach in the below recipe for an easy swap.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups kale
  • 2 cups of your preferred milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup low-fat parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Instructions:

  1. Chop your kale and add it to a pan with the garlic cloves, shallots and butter. Stir until the kale sautees before adding the other dry ingredients except the cornstarch. 
  2. Place the cornstarch into a small bowl with your milk and whisk until combined.
  3. Let the thickened milk mixture simmer over medium heat while you stir.
  4. You can top it with parmesan and serve it when it’s thick, like chowder. The thick sauce makes this one of the most popular green vegetable side dishes at any holiday meal.

2. Cheesy Broccoli Casserole

You can depend on broccoli as a delicious foundational ingredient in your Thanksgiving vegetable sides. While it’s deliciously good on its own, broccoli is also the perfect vehicle for healthy toppings like cheese. You can whip up this cheesy broccoli casserole to pair your veggies with nutrient-packed cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup low-fat or avocado mayonnaise
  • 1 pound broccoli florets, fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup low-fat sharp cheddar cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and spray a casserole dish with avocado oil.
  2. Steam your broccoli florets in your microwave, steamer, or instant pot until soft.
  3. Stir the spices, cheese, and mustard together. Add a splash of water and mix, then repeat until the sauce has your desired consistency.
  4. Add the steamed broccoli and mix until combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into your casserole dish and add extra cheese if desired.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until it’s slightly golden on top. You can also broil it for 30 seconds to brown the cheese before serving.

3. Greens Braised in Garlic and Parmesan

Of the 81% of people who get a turkey for their Thanksgiving protein, many would likely prefer to pair it with green vegetable side dishes.3 Including a lighter side dish like veggies makes the turkey’s flavor stand out, precisely what you want after spending so long cooking it. It’s the centerpiece of the meal, after all.

Make a few greens braised in garlic and parmesan to complement your turkey’s savory flavors. You get to try an easy vegetable side for Thanksgiving while personalizing the recipe with your preferred greens, like kale or shredded Brussels sprouts. This light recipe is a stellar replacement for heavier sides like the classic green bean casserole.

Ingredients:

  • 5 sliced garlic cloves
  • 3 cups of shredded Brussels sprouts or 2 bunches of kale or 2 cups of collard greens
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Lemon juice, to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine, if preferred

Instructions:

  1. Saute the sliced garlic in the butter over medium heat for one minute.
  2. Add half of your chosen greens and stir until soft or wilted. Add the rest and repeat.
  3. Toss your braised greens and add the spices, then add your water and cook on medium-high until the greens absorb the water.
  4. Sprinkle lemon juice and a splash of white wine, if preferred, before serving.

4. Tabbouleh

You might picture something like healthy quinoa stuffing when you imagine making easy Thanksgiving recipes, but you can also whip up a tasty dish like tabbouleh. It’s fresh and delicious, often described as a parsley salad. It only takes a few ingredients to make a salad recipe everyone will want to try. If you are aiming to make this a gluten-free dish, substitute rice or quinoa for the bulgur.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • 1 cup diced large tomato
  • 3 bunches parsley
  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 1/3 cup chopped mint, if desired
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • A few squirts of lemon juice, if preferred

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the bulgur according to your package’s instructions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Add the diced vegetables into a bowl with the salt and stir. Let it marinate for 10 minutes.
  3. Process the parsley in a food process or chop it into a fine green pile.
  4. Mix the parsley with the cool bulgur, mint, and onion.
  5. Strain the tomatoes and cucumber to remove the juices around the bottom of your bowl. Mix into the parsley bowl.
  6. Squirt the lemon juice on top, if desired. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

5. Tricolor Roasted Carrots

The best Thanksgiving vegetable sides catch the eye. There’s no denying the delicious green appeal of a matcha mint mocktail or a golden apple tart with a crispy crust. You can create the same effect with buttery tricolor roasted carrots that splash a rainbow of hues onto any Thanksgiving table. For a variation on this dish, try other root vegetables like roasted sweet potatoes or parsnips. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of tricolor carrots, which typically include the traditional orange, purple haze, yellow stone, or atomic red
  • 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • Lemon juice, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil if preferred.
  2. Wash and slice your carrots lengthwise or across the middle, then add them to the baking sheet.
  3. Drizzle the carrots with olive oil and sprinkle the spices over them.
  4. Toss them gently by hand on the baking sheet.
  5. Flatten the carrots and bake for 15-20 minutes, then flip them and bake for another 15–20 minutes. 
  6. When the carrots caramelize and are easy to pierce with a fork, drizzle with lemon juice if preferred and serve.

6. Spice-Roasted Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is a favorite ingredient in holiday side dishes, even for people who aren’t eating a nutritious diet. Squash is an autumn and winter staple and is a great replacement for sweet potatoes. It’s easy to morph into different flavors, so this spice-roasted butternut squash recipe will dazzle your loved ones.

Ingredients:

  • 1 2-3 pound butternut squash or small ones that add to that weight
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Peel, seed, and dice your butternut squash. 
  3. Toss it with the spices and olive oil before laying everything flat on a covered baking sheet.
  4. Roast your butternut squash for 20 minutes, flip the mixture, and bake for another 20 minutes.
  5. Broil the squash when it’s tender to create a browned effect if desired. Serve warm.

7. Mashed Potatoes With Chives

Although you can always swap mashed cauliflower for potatoes to make a healthy Thanksgiving side dish, you don’t have to give up potatoes for the holidays. Varieties like the Nicola or Marfona potatoes have lower GI impacts than the Maris Peer potato.4 A healthy serving size could moderate your blood sugar while you savor a tasty recipe like this one.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of Marfona or Nicola potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup low-fat or almond milk
  • 1/2 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • A handful of chives, finely chopped

Instructions:

  1. Add your chopped potatoes to a Dutch oven filled with water and bring to a boil on your stovetop. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until they’re tender.
  2. Drain the potatoes and return them to your pot. Add the rest of the ingredients, minus the chives.
  3. Mash with your preferred tool, like an electric mixer or manual masher.
  4. Spoon the potatoes into a serving dish and top with the chives before serving.

8. Roasted Cauliflower With Parmesan

Give everyone the treat of crispy, sweet cauliflower this Thanksgiving. They’ll especially love your holiday side dishes when you show up with this flavorful dish topped with low-carb parmesan cheese. It’s one of the easy Thanksgiving recipes people use as an alternative to calorie-dense mac and cheese.

It may even win over the kids sitting down for your holiday meal. The cheese and soft cauliflower texture mimic pasta, so even picky eaters might clear their vegetable plate before returning for seconds.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of cauliflower florets or 1 cauliflower head chopped into florets
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss the cauliflower florets with all other ingredients.
  3. Transfer to a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is golden brown.

What to Make for Thanksgiving

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Anyone can make these ideas for Thanksgiving side dishes, but you can modify what you already love. 

Simple swaps you can make this Thanksgiving include:

  • Instead of a calorie-heavy sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, opt for roasted sweet potatoes. Missing the crunchy topping? Sprinkle pecans or pine nuts on top of the roasted potatoes for added texture and protein.
  • Mashed cauliflower can substitute potatoes and taste great with gravy. 
  • Make a side salad instead of stuffing, or leave a bit more flour out of your gravy than you’d typically use.
  • Include easy vegetable sides like a Brussel sprouts salad or fresh green beans to minimize prep time.
  • Toss roasted acorn squash and roasted beets with dried cranberries to satisfy any sweet tooth.

Minor swaps still make a difference. You can also discuss your concerns with your doctor. They’ll likely suggest ideas tailored to your medical history, like switching brown sugar for stevia in your pumpkin pie. It all depends on how your diet can best support your health.

Learn More About Healthy Nutrition and Recipes With Signos’ Expert Advice

Now that you’ve read some of the best Thanksgiving vegetable sides consider what you and your loved ones would enjoy eating this year. Whether you host everyone at your house or bring a side dish for yourself, you’ll love every bite of your meal without worrying about your health.

The experts at Signos can assist with your dietary concerns before and after the holidays. They’re experts at navigating healthy dietary changes while teaching clients how to track their blood sugar levels.

Check out their nutrition advice or browse the other healthy tips on the Signos blog. You can also take the Signos quiz to discover if the customizable diet plan suits your wellness goals.

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References

  1. Wunsch, N.-G. (2022, November 15). Most Popular Thanksgiving Side Dishes U.S. 2021. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/788102/most-popular-thanksgiving-sides/
  2. Nemzer, B., Al-Taher, F., & Abshiru, N. (2021, April 26). Extraction and Natural Bioactive Molecules Characterization in Spinach, Kale and Purslane: A Comparative Study. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/26/9/2515
  3. Deppen, A. (2022, November 17). Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas. S Clyde Weaver. https://sclydeweaver.com/blog/thanksgiving-dinner-ideas/
  4. Sagili, V. S., Chakrabarti, P., Jayanty, S., Kardile, H., & Sathuvalli, V. (2022, August 2). The Glycemic Index and Human Health With an Emphasis on Potatoes. Foods. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9368276/

About the author

Mia Barnes is a health writer and researcher who specializes in nutrition, fitness, and mental health.

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