Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes [Healthy & Decadent]

I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the meal itself is packed with lots of my favorite foods. In addition to delicious turkey and gravy, I love all the veggies that go with it. In fact, what makes this particular meal so amazing is all of the different side dishes. […]

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I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the meal itself is packed with lots of my favorite foods. In addition to delicious turkey and gravy, I love all the veggies that go with it. In fact, what makes this particular meal so amazing is all of the different side dishes. As my favorite holiday is right around the corner, I’m excited to share two of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes! And because one of the most integral philosophies around healthy eating for me is BALANCE, these two dishes fill the categories of both decadent and healthy. But they’re both delicious.

How to Maintain your Health Goals During a Holiday

First of all, I believe that if you make healthy choices most of the time, then splurging on something decadent isn’t a big deal. I don’t label foods as “good” or “bad,” and I encourage you to do the same. Food is used to nourish our bodies, yes, but it’s also used to fulfill family traditions, celebrate special occasions, and nourish our souls. And a special holiday is not the time to restrict your eating too much. Above all, don’t let your health goals get in the way of you enjoying this special time of year. But at the same time, don’t let this weekend derail your health goals for the rest of this year. It’s a balance that is important to find, but I promise you it exists!

One of the ways I keep myself on track with my health goals when I know I’ll be having a heavier meal with more decadent choices is to plan ahead. Firstly, I’ll make sure I have time for a workout that day. Secondly, I’ll have a healthy smoothie for breakfast to ensure I’m not starving when mealtime hits. This is also a great way to make sure I’ve consumed some high-quality nutrients, fiber, and protein. Lastly, it’s all about hydration! Be sure you’re drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water each day. On days like Thanksgiving, I try to drink even more. All of the heavy foods often lead to puffiness. The best way to combat them is by drinking lots of water!

A Pumpkin Spice Smoothie starts the day out right, while keeping with the day’s theme

And now, let’s get to the food!

Decadent Thanksgiving Side Dish: My Mom’s Candied Yams

My favorite side, when I was young, was my mom’s Candied Yams. There’s not much in this Thanksgiving side that is good for you nutritionally, but for me, it nourishes my soul. And that’s important stuff! I’ll enjoy a serving (or two!) on Thanksgiving and dig into the leftovers over the next few days. What I WON’T do is feel guilty about any of it. It’s a special occasion kind of dish that isn’t in my regular rotation, so I’ll be sure to enjoy it while I have it and skip the guilt. (And I’ll follow the tips I posted above to ensure I don’t feel awful at the end of the day.)

Traditional Candied Yams

This traditional Thanksgiving side dish is filled with butter, sugar and topped with marshmallows. And friend, it’s delicious. Like I said, enjoy this side dish to nourish your soul (and sweet tooth), and don’t think about the calories.

Mouth-watering goodness

What you’ll need:

  • Canned yams (1-2 large cans)
  • Orange juice or apple cider
  • Flour (feel free to use almond or brown rice flour to keep this dish gluten-free)
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar
  • Cinnamon, allspice, and whatever spices you prefer
  • Mini-marshmallows

To prepare:

  • Preheat the oven to 375oF
  • Drain the yams, and add to a baking dish
  • Pour 1 c of orange juice or apple cider over the yams
  • Mix the 1 c flour and 1 c brown sugar, cut in 1 stick of butter until the mixture resembles wet sand
  • Add your spices and some salt
  • Top the yams with your flour/sugar/butter mixture
  • Bake for about 45 minutes, until the juices are bubbling and the topping is crisp
  • Add your marshmallows and return to oven until lightly brown
  • Try not to eat the entire dish in one sitting

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dish: Thanksgiving Slaw

Photo credit: Lauren Volo

In addition to the hearty, heavy dishes traditionally served on Thanksgiving, it’s nice to offer a fresh, crisp salad. Green salads can wilt quickly and don’t tend to do well as a leftover. I love making slaws because they taste better when made in advance of the meal, and they hold up well for days. In fact, for best results, prepare this Thanksgiving side dish at least an hour ahead of mealtime.

This specific slaw is a recipe from TheKitchn. I think it is a perfect complement to the decadent candied yams I’ve suggested above.

What you’ll need for the dressing:

  • 1/3 c avocado oil
  • 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 4 t dijon mustard
  • 1/2 t kosher/sea salt
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped

What you’ll need for the salad:

  • 1 small head green cabbage 9r or about 10c coleslaw mix)
  • 3/4 c sliced almonds, toasted
  • 3/4 c dried cranberries
  • 3/4 c fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare:

  • Make the dressing: whisk together the oil, vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, and salt in a large bowl. Add the onion and stir to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. 
  • Make the salad: shred the cabbage (or empty the bags of slaw mix into a bowl). 
  • Mix the cabbage/slaw mix, almonds, cranberries, and parley with the dressing and toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

To sum things up, there is no need to deprive yourself of your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes this holiday season. But as always, balance out the decadent dishes with some light and healthy (but still flavorful) ones as well. Time flies by, and it’s essential to take time to enjoy life to the fullest while also keeping ourselves healthy so we can enjoy it all to the fullest. I hope these two recipes give you some inspiration that you CAN find balance during the holidays. And that it’s not an excuse to abandon your health goals until January. I believe in you!

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

If you like these recipes, you may want to check out this blog post:

3 Easy Gluten-Free Meal Ideas

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