How to Enhance Your Thanksgiving or Holiday Side Dish

It’s the best time of year: Families are gathering, and plenty of delicious food is being prepared. There are now so many festive recipes out there, but which ones will actually benefit your health?

Sure you can eat mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie (honestly it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without these things); but this year, try to add a new side dish for your family to enjoy. I personally will not be forgoing the turkey with gravy and stuffing, but plan to also add some color to my plate with the following foods. Who knows, you may find a new favorite tradition to enjoy.

[ See: Recipes for a Mediterranean Thanksgiving. ]

Healthy Holiday Side Dishes

Root vegetables

Parsnips, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips and more are often overlooked on the holiday table. You can make a beautiful, delicious and simple spread by chopping up a variety of these veggies, tossing in some oil and adding spices (your choice) before roasting them.

Even basic carrots roasted with some cinnamon can enhance your basic side dishes. Kids don’t love raw carrots? Try this recipe from the Cleveland Clinic. Exposing them to the same food prepared various ways also helps with picky eating.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash is another versatile fall favorite; roast it or add it to a soup or stew (chopped or pureed). High in fiber, butternut squash is a complex carbohydrate. It offers a hefty dose of fiber, as well as numerous vitamins.

A cup of butternut squash gives you more potassium than a banana. Think outside the box and puree butternut squash into mac and cheese; you’ll hardly taste it and the color is identical. A fun recipe enhancement for even the pickiest kid.

Brussels sprouts

These little guys are most delicious when roasted (seeing a trend here). You can keep it simple by adding bacon and seasonings — perhaps a little maple syrup. No need for as many ingredients as other casserole dishes; keep it simple and let the ingredients shine with a basic Brussels sprouts dish.

[ READ: Keto-Friendly Thanksgiving Meal Ideas. ]


Lentils are a lesser known legume that packs a punch of protein. While it’s a highly recommended food for vegetarians, it should also be enjoyed by all. Lentils take on much of the flavor of what they’re cooked in. You can use in a fall stew, Bolognese sauce or create a flavorful mixed dish like the recipe here. The rustic flavors would fit in with any fall or winter meal.


Kale can be intimidating, but it’s delicious if you know what to do with it. It’s important to first “massage the kale” with olive oil and lemon juice. This helps break down the fibers and infuse the greens with flavor to help decrease the bitterness. If you then dress it with a yummy dressing and toss in some sweet flavors (craisins, apples) and some crunch (roasted nuts, sunflower seeds) you can make a delicious salad that just screams fall.


Everyone thinks of pumpkin for Thanksgiving, but let’s not forget about apples. One of my favorite fall fruits, you can do so much with apples. Add to your favorite stuffing recipe, toss on top of a salad, puree into a soup for some sweetness, make your own applesauce in a crockpot or create a delicious dessert with some oats and brown sugar on top.

And all of this can come after you go apple picking with the kids. Let them bring home their stash and then find a fun recipe that they will be proud to eat.

[ READ: How to Cook With Spices to Add Flavor. ]

Other Recipe Enhancements

Use toasted oats and roasted nuts to top casseroles. Rather than the traditional cornflakes on cheesy potatoes or marshmallows and brown sugar on sweet potato casserole try topping your dishes with a new type of crunch. You can toast oats and roast nuts in the oven (obviously still use some brown sugar and butter) and use that to top some traditional dishes. The oats and nuts give you fiber, protein and healthy fats to enhance your dish.

Spice up your life! Add ginger or turmeric to your dishes. Cumin, cardamom, nutmeg and more. Experiment with new spices to adjust the flavors of some of your favorite foods. Increased use of seasonings decreases the use for as much fat and sugar for flavor.

Greek yogurt can be an awesome substitution for higher fat dairy products. Consider subbing out half cream cheese for half Greek yogurt. Often times you can’t go 100% or it does compromise the flavor and texture, but a bit of a swap helps add more protein and gut healthy probiotics to your creamy casserole dish.

Exploring new flavors and getting creative in the kitchen will not only enhance your palate, but hopefully create new family memories and traditions. Get your kids involved. Let each child plan and prepare a new recipe. Or make it a game and challenge each family member to get creative with one of the ingredients above. You just might find a new favorite holiday side dish, as well as memories that will last beyond the plate.

And remember — enjoy the flavors this season. While we’re looking to enhance meals, we never want to restrict foods. Thanksgiving is one day, and it won’t make or break your health goals. Enjoy the foods you love and the moments that come with it. Set good examples for your children by avoiding diet talk at the table, and instead be thankful for opportunity to enjoy a good meal.

More from U.S. News

How to Control Thanksgiving Feasting

Recipes for a Mediterranean Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving on a Gluten-Free, Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

How to Enhance Your Thanksgiving or Holiday Side Dish originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up