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Dietitians’ Favorite Healthy Thanksgiving Sides

Americans’ most hearty, delicious holiday is fast approaching. Most of us have a turkey centered on our tables surrounded by bowls and platters of sweet and savory sides to accompany it — mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole to name a few. This year should be no different, but with our help, your sides can be a degree or two healthier. Wondering what might be on a dietitian’s table? We asked a few RDs to weigh in on their favorites and to offer inspiration:

Not your Traditional Cranberry Sauce
Robin Hooge, RDN loves giving her cranberry sauce a few twists: lime juice and fresh ginger for an extra bite, plus maple syrup to sweeten it up. Cranberry sauce is a quick, make-ahead side that cuts through the richness at Thanksgiving dinners. Her add-ins are an interesting twist and you can control how much maple syrup you add to keep the sweetness to your liking.

Make Fruits and Vegetables the Stars
Holly Conrady, RD, LDN tries to pack in seasonal produce whenever she can. Fruit is at the table for both dinner and dessert in her house. For instance, she’ll top a salad with fresh pears and make cinnamon apples as a dessert – no extra sugar needed. She encourages diners to “just enjoy the natural sweetness from the fruit.”

For vegetables, roasting is the way to go. Simply toss your choice of vegetables with olive oil, salt, pepper, and your favorite dried herbs, and bake at 425 F until tender. Options are endless, and it’s easy to go with what is available seasonally or cater to what your guests like best. If you enjoy festive squash and pumpkins, go for it! Holly’s favorite combo is broccoli, carrots, and onions.

Disguise, Disguise, Disguise
Dietitians love finding new ways to swap in nutritionally dense ingredients for heavier foods like potatoes. Cauliflower mashed potatoes are popular and for good reason. This alt-mash is lower in calories and carbohydrates, and it won’t cause your blood sugar to spike. Zipongo has many mashed cauliflower recipes to choose from, like this this option that relies on coconut milk for its rich flavor. If you’re wary of relying solely on cauliflower, Taylor Conrady, RD, LDN recommends trying a blend of mashed potato and cauliflower to start.

McKenna Welshans, RD, ACSM-CEP loves combining rutabaga with cauliflower. Add in a little butter and garlic and cook in bone broth (a great option for adding protein) for a flavorful, delicious substitution. “Per 100 grams, rutabaga provides half the amount of carbohydrates, half the calories, and 10% more vitamin C than potatoes.

Mushroom-herb stuffing is also a favorite of Genevieve Weldon MA, RD, CD. Mushrooms are low in carbohydrates and contain many minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins, including folate. Because they’re nutritionally dense but lower in calories and carbs than bread, they can bulk up your stuffing with both flavor and texture. Simply sauté them with onions and celery, scatter in some fresh herbs like sage and thyme, combine with cubed bread and bake until golden brown.

A classic in Taylor Conrady RD, LDN’s home is Spinach Williamsburg. Essentially, it’s a delicious, baked ball of spinach and breadcrumbs packed with flavorful garlic, thyme, onion, and cayenne pepper. You can form it to sit atop thick tomato slices or stuff it into red peppers. This is another easy side that you can prep the filling ahead of time. Taylor considers it “the tastiest way to eat spinach.” It’s full of calcium and vitamins C and K.

Ingredients:

2 box chopped spinach
2 cup breadcrumbs
½ minced onion
6 beaten eggs
¾ cup butter or ½ cup olive oil
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp cayenne pepper
18 thick slices tomato

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place the tomato slices/peppers on a greased cookie sheet in an even layer.
  3. Scoop the spinach mixture on top of the slices.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes.

Key Takeaways:
Our favorite Thanksgiving sides don’t need to change much. Just be mindful of added sugars and make smart swaps where you can. Starchy go-tos can be swapped for non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower and mushrooms. Keep produce handy at each course. Have fun with your favorite spices and herbs! And don’t be afraid to try something new. We hope these ideas keep your traditions going just as strong with a little more nourishment to offer.

For more recipes, check out this piece on Thanksgiving Sides.

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