Skip the Post-Meal Nap—These 20 Healthy Thanksgiving Sides Are Deliciously Nutrient-Dense

Vegan gravy has entered the chat.

By Camille Styles

While most of us can agree that sharing a meal celebrating friends, family, and gratitude is deserving of a day off from work, settling on the part of Thanksgiving dinner that reigns supreme can be a bit more heated. Sure, when faced with many of our favorite seasonal foods—pumpkin pie, turkey, and any number of carb-dominant recipes—it can be challenging to pick a culinary front-runner. And while we’re not in the business of making sweeping claims without the very real possibility that our opinion may change tomorrow, here’s a fact we know for sure: The turkey day meal is not complete without a wide and varied range of show-stopping sides. In the spirit of ensuring that everyone at your table can dig in, we’ve rounded up our go-to healthy Thanksgiving side dishes that are nutritious, and of course, absolutely delicious.

And don’t get us wrong—we’re all for taking the Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to indulge in our favorite treats, but when you get the chance to make recipes that not only taste *amazing* but don’t make you want to take a nap immediately after, well, that’s cause to keep the celebrations coming. Without further ado, here’s your one-stop-shop solution for vegan, vegetarian, and veggie-packed sides.

P.S. For more ideas that’ll help you have your best turkey day yet, check our guide to all things Thanksgiving prepping and planning.

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes - Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Pumpkin Hummus

Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Pumpkin Hummus from Pinch of Yum

Why We Love It: Having a substantial dip served either before or alongside your Thanksgiving meal is crucial to keeping your guests satiated in anticipation of the main event, and this silky and smooth hummus delivers. Just a few ingredients prepped and pureed in the food processor and voilà—the vehicle for all your crackers, pita, and bread is served.

Hero Ingredient: While many hummus recipes call for minced raw garlic, this recipe utilizes the soft, sweet, and deep flavor of the roasted alternative for a complex and comforting result.

Get the recipe here.

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes - Roasted Cranberry Kale Salad

Roasted Cranberry Kale Salad from Food Heaven

Why We Love It: Sure, salads are typically associated with fresh and simple summertime meals, but when you’re inundated with sweets, treats, and every manner of decadent eats (honestly, not the worst problem to have), an autumnal salad just hits different. Give your plate a healthy hint of green with this salad that puts the seasonal bounty (kale! maple syrup! fresh cranberries!) front and center.

Hero Ingredient: Not only are cranberries packed with powerful antioxidants, but they also lend a satisfying sweetness to this salad. Consider this a PSA to start roasting your cranberries with lemon juice and maple syrup stat.

Get the recipe here.

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes - Healthy Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Healthy Homemade Cranberry Sauce from All the Healthy Things

Why We Love It: Don’t have the unfortunate memory of jellied cranberry sauce from the can making an appearance at many a childhood Thanksgiving? Consider yourself lucky. If you can’t count yourself among the fortunate few, know that this couldn’t be further from the retro and ready-made version. And while some sauces can be overly sweet and seem more appropriate for dessert, this recipe subs maple syrup for refined white sugar, so you don’t have to worry about crashing after clearing your plate.

Hero Ingredient: The addition of orange juice not only plays with the maple syrup to contribute a subtle bit of sweetness, but it also provides a delicate and balanced flavor with just enough acidity to contrast the cranberry’s tart tang. Bonus points if you top your sauce with a little of the zest for added color.

Get the recipe here.

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes - Vegan Brown Butter Sweet Potato Casserole

Vegan Brown Butter Sweet Potato Casserole from Rainbow Plant Life

Why We Love It: Sweet Potato Casserole is quintessential Thanksgiving at its best. And sure, while we can consume the mini marshmallow-topped version with nostalgic abandon, this take brings you all the comfort of the classic with the added infusion of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and a beautifully sticky and swoon-worthy topping. This recipe is love at first (and second, and third) bite.

Hero Ingredient: With the trio of spices, a splash of vanilla, and a reasonable amount of vegan butter to create the perfect bit of richness, this casserole doesn’t try to cover up the potatoes’ natural sweetness. What’s more, Nisha, the genius responsible for this recipe’s brilliance, opts for baking the potatoes instead of steaming or boiling them, drawing out the tubers’ lovely flavor and letting you skip the labor-heavy chore of chopping

Get the recipe here.

Maple Roasted Harvest Vegetables - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Maple Roasted Harvest Vegetables from The Clever Carrot

Why We Love It: Is there anything prettier than a rainbow-hued pile of carrots, parsnips, and a pound of beautifully-baked brussels sprouts? While roasting the medley of peak fall produce alone would be enough to make our mouths water, this recipe takes it a step further and tosses the veggies in a sweet and ever-so-slightly spicy mustard glaze. Pro tip from Emilie, the Clever Carrot herself: While it may add an extra step of clean up, she advises forgoing the parchment paper and instead scooping up the crispy bits of baked deliciousness from the bottom of your pan.

Hero Ingredient: Apricot jam in the mustard glaze? Color us intrigued. Sweet and fruity, the ingredient’s inclusion is definitely intentional and frankly brilliant. When the veggies hit the oven, the jam helps the glaze develop a distinctly caramelized taste. Nature’s candy indeed.

Get the recipe here.

Easy Vegan Gluten-Free Biscuits - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Easy Vegan Gluten-Free Biscuits from Minimalist Baker

Why We Love It: Fluffy, flaky, soft, and salty—the list of tempting and highly-palatable adjectives used to describe biscuits is infinite. If there are vegan and/or gluten-free diners at your table this year, this simple and fast-baking alternative to the biscuits we each know and love comes with just as tender and buttery a bite.

Hero Ingredient: Half a stick of vegan butter is the key to achieving a sky-high biscuit full of flaky layers.

Get the recipe here.

these Autumn Stuffed Sweet Potatoes are my favorite vegetarian weeknight meal!

Autumn Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Why We Love It: Disclaimer: We’re a bit obsessed with sweet potatoes around here. The star of many a quick weeknight meal (if you haven’t made sweet potato toast yet, you’re missing out) and a staple on every holiday table, sweet potatoes reign supreme in the contest of most delicious autumn vegetable. While it’s hard to improve upon their innate deliciousness, this customizable side succeeds at making an impressive attempt.

Hero Ingredient: Tahini can truly do no wrong. We went for a fruity and complex Middle Eastern vibe with a sauce that leans on its luscious nuttiness for flavor. Slightly bitter, strong, and earthy, tahini is exactly what you want drizzled atop your slow-roasted sweet potato.

Get the recipe here.

Easy Vegan Gravy - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Easy Vegan Gravy from Nora Cooks

Why We Love It: Meet the best thing to ever grace a delicious mountain of mashed potatoes. Six ingredients is all it takes to make this gravy. This recipe keeps for up to a week in the fridge, so if you don’t have the five minutes it takes to whip it up before the big meal (on Thanksgiving day, who does?), rest assured you can prep it a few days in advance and it’ll be just as good as if you made it seconds before serving.

Hero Ingredient: We love nutritional yeast for the cheesy, savory goodness it brings to anything it touches. This recipe included.

Get the recipe here.

Vegan Cornbread - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Vegan Cornbread from Jessica in the Kitchen

Why We Love It: It isn’t Thanksgiving if there isn’t cornbread on the table. With the ideal balance of fluffy texture and dense crumb, this buttery cornbread can be whipped up in just 15 minutes. If somehow your party doesn’t polish off the entire pan, you’ll have leftovers that’ll last for a few days of soup and chili accompaniments. Nothing beats a good old-fashioned (vegan) cornbread.

Hero Ingredient: While some people like their cornbread as savory as can be (here’s looking at you, jalapeño cheddar) there’s something inherently comforting about a cornbread that tastes like the precursor to dessert without tempting you to skip the pie. The key ingredient responsible for making that happen? Maple syrup, folks! Not only does it provide sweetness, but its subtle smoky flavor gives depth, texture, and moisture to this essential side dish.

Get the recipe here.

Vegan Mashed Potatoes - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Vegan Mashed Potatoes from Simple Vegan Blog

Why We Love It: This is a simple take on the classic that lets your potatoes truly shine. While some dairy recipes include copious amounts of cream or milk that only hides the flavor of the spuds, this recipe is light on the plant milk and vegan butter (or olive oil) to give your Russet or Yukon Golds a chance to share their starchy magic.

Hero Ingredient: While the recipe considers Yukon Gold or Russets Potatoes interchangeable, we’d recommend opting for the former. You’ll get the creamy fluffiness of the most memorable mashed potatoes, plus an inherent buttery flavor that’ll only improve when more butter (vegan or otherwise) is added.

Get the recipe here.

Root Vegetable and Quinoa Salad with Tahini-Maple Vinaigrette - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Root Vegetable and Quinoa Salad with Tahini-Maple Vinaigrette

Why We Love It: You know the best thing about salads? They’re really just an excuse to fill your plate with a plethora of superfoods and satisfy the inevitable craving for colorful veggies that always seems to crop up mid-November (or whenever we get to the bottom of the kids’ Halloween bucket). This salad pairs an impressive presentation with the inclusion of just about every plant-based powerhouse you can think of. Avocados, quinoa, beets, chickpeas, and more veggies galore—this salad is what they’re talking about when they say “eat the rainbow.” 

Hero Ingredient: The addition of avocados gives this light and refreshing salad a little heft, substantial and satisfying enough for a five-star review.

Get the recipe here.

Healthier Apple Sausage Stuffing - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Healthier Apple Sausage Stuffing from Erin Lives Whole

Why We Love It: Stuffing is hands down the best thing you can make with slightly-stale bread between October and December (in the summer months, we’d swap that for panzanella). Make the most of end-of-season apples by chopping them up and adding to this savory sausage stuffing. The smell of the herbs and spices baking away in the oven as this stuffing sets and turns golden brown will bring everyone to the kitchen to sneak a whiff.

Hero Ingredient: Sage brings the classic stuffing flavor to the forefront of this dish, and when paired with thyme, well, nostalgic Thanksgiving vibes await.

Get the recipe here.

Roasted Delicata Squash and Kale Salad - Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Warm Roasted Delicata Squash and Kale Salad

Why We Love It: This recipe comes straight from Sheela Prakash’s beautiful Mediterranean Every Day cookbook. Full of feel-good and laid-back recipes, Sheela’s book is a celebration of the elegant but easy-going cuisine, and it includes the salad we can’t stop making every day while delicata squash is in season. Crunchy hazelnuts, a creamy ricotta salata, and a colorful presentation—let us introduce you to the salad your guests will be talking about through Christmas.

Hero Ingredient: Is there anything better than deliciously-caramelized delicata squash? Answer: In this recipe, nope.

Get the recipe here.

Curried Cauliflower, Grape, & Lentil Salad from Minimalist Baker

Why We Love It: Stay with us here: Grapes are the unexpected but ideal component you need to start adding to all of your autumn-inspired salads. Their beautiful blush hue is a stunning contrast in color and flavor to the subtly spicy and golden curry-roasted cauliflower. And the Green Curry Tahini Dressing?! Chef’s kiss.

Hero Ingredient: Green curry paste is the base for this dish’s Thai and Middle Eastern-inspired dressing—and the resulting punch of flavor and vibrant color gorgeously ties this entire recipe together

Get the recipe here.

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts from Love & Lemons

Why We Love It: Forget what you’ve heard about brussels sprouts being bitter or bland. That may have once been the case when boiling these cute mini cabbages was the preferred way of preparing them, but we’ve since branched out and seen the light that is roasted brussels sprouts. Balsamic vinegar and maple syrup are the time-honored duo that take center stage in this sweet and savory recipe. While this is definitely a must-make to include in your Thanksgiving spread, it can also be enjoyed as a light lunch or a fast and easy dinner any night of the week.

Hero Ingredient: Whisking the half-teaspoon of Dijon mustard into the dressing gives a slight punch and just enough acidity to brighten up each bite.

Get the recipe here.

Mashed Cauliflower from Downshiftology

Why We Love It: Don’t worry, we’d never try to convince you that a Thanksgiving meal is complete without a bowl of beautiful mashed potatoes. At the same time though, we’d also never try to convince you that cauliflower isn’t the unexpected showstopper that’ll seal the deal on your dinner (we did, after all, include several recipes highlighting the veggie in this very roundup). Get your multiple-veggies-a-day fix with this sneaky four-ingredient side—you won’t regret it.

Hero Ingredient: This simple recipe gives you the freedom of selecting the mix of herbs that lends flavor and complexity to your final dish. A little versatility with a lot of impact? Sign us up.

Get the recipe here.

Freezable Stuffing with Kale and Caramelized Onions from Alexandra’s Kitchen

Why We Love It: Run, don’t walk to the kitchen and get started on this brilliant make-ahead stuffing ASAP. If you’re a weeks-in-advance, plan-ahead sort of Thanksgiving host, be sure to include this dish in your meal. A crisp crust and just-creamy-enough center make it a welcoming side to anything and everything else you put on your plate.

Hero Ingredient: Of course, as with any stuffing, because the bread is a crucial component, it’s important to select a loaf that’s worthy of the task at hand. This recipe recommends a day-old, but not-too-dry loaf of peasant bread. With a thin crust, you don’t even have to think about slicing it off. Just cube and cook away.

Get the recipe here.

Roasted Carrots with Farro, Chickpeas & Herbed Crème Fraîche from Cookie + Kate

Why We Love It: There could not be a more perfectly-seasoned side than this. Parsley, cumin, and the tang of crème fraîche all contribute to a vegetarian option that’s gourmet in appearance and exceptional in ease. Make sure you use a mix of colorful carrots—orange, purple, and a pale, almost-parsnip-like yellow—each separate shade carries a nuanced flavor that’ll only add interest and depth to the dish.

Hero Ingredient: Bring a bit of fresh and peppery flavor to your Thanksgiving spread with a healthy garnish of parsley.

Get the recipe here.

sweet and sour cider brussels sprouts recipe

Sweet & Sour Cider-Glazed Brussels Sprouts With Dates & Pecans

Why We Love It: Millennial-favorite Brussels sprouts are shredded and served spicy and charred with the mix of sweet apple cider, sticky dates, and fall-season-favorite pecans. Searing the sprouts before introducing the rest of your ingredients to the pan allows them to retain their flavor even when coated with this awe-inspiring sauce.

Hero Ingredient: It isn’t autumn without apple cider, and this dish gives you the opportunity to enjoy it in an unexpected way.

Get the recipe here.

Roasted Cauliflower With Toasted Panko and Golden Raisins from The Modern Proper

Why We Love It: Cauliflower is the cruciferous veggie worthy of a wonderfully delicious love affair. Seriously—we’re obsessed with this endlessly-versatile vegetable, especially when roasted to crisp and caramelized perfection. This healthy dish brings together soft, sweet, and juicy golden raisins with a toasted topping of panko for a hearty and satisfying side.

Hero Ingredient: Toasted panko (a type of Japanese breadcrumb) is the number one staple ingredient you need to have on hand in the kitchen at all times. Panko is lighter and flakier than other breadcrumbs, and when it’s toasted in butter as it is here, you have the benefit of delighting in a delicate crunch.

Get the recipe here.

This post was originally published on November 20, 2015 and has since been updated.

Comments (1)

  1. vic1108 says:

    Great recipes! Thank you so much for sharing!!

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