Popular thanksgiving sides & how to make them healthier

Fall has officially come to an end for most of us, which means the chill of winter is approaching. I don’t know about you, but when winter comes around, I love to use the oven to make comforting foods that fill my house with warmth and love. When cooking these foods, I often think of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time of gathering, sharing a hearty, delicious meal and maybe even catching a nap during the football game. It is one of those holidays we typically eat more than we normally would because we are presented with numerous casseroles, rolls, and of course, turkey. Although there is nothing wrong with enjoying a hearty meal occasionally, maybe this Thanksgiving you could try making some of those beloved casseroles more nutrient friendly! Here are my top four side dishes for Thanksgiving:

Stuffing is my personal favorite. It has so many delicious ingredients that make it near impossible not to love! Traditional stuffing typically has bread, onion, celery, butter and fresh herbs. Stuffing on its own wouldn’t be a very macro-friendly food as it is mostly carb focused, however, when paired with turkey, you get the carbs, protein and fat. When a food is described as “macro-friendly”, it simply means the food contains a healthy balance of carbs, proteins and fats. Swapping the butter for olive oil would give you more Omega-3 fats, which are great for heart health and longevity. Simple, yet scrumptious.

Green Bean Casserole is one of those dishes that either you love or you hate. This dish is such an easy way to get some vegetables in, but did you know it’s possible to make it even more nutritionally balanced? Making this dish from scratch can seem time consuming but the difference in nutritional value is immense and it can also easily be made gluten free! Simply making the crispy onions on your own instead of using pre-packaged and making your own cream of mushroom soup instead of buying the cans can greatly reduce sodium levels and added preservatives that aren’t necessary. Reduced sodium levels can help some people keep their blood pressure lower while also relieving overall inflammation. You can find one of my favorite recipes that puts these tips into action at the end of this page!

Sweet Potato Casserole is more on the dessert end of sides but is still oh, so yummy! Sweet potatoes have several good benefits on their own but when made into a casserole, most people add in sugar, marshmallows and other additives which ultimately results in an increase of calories. We can still enjoy these sweet treats but it’s important to think about ways we can make them enjoyable for both our mind and our bodies. This dish is unique because it can be altered in several different ways. I have a personal favorite which uses raw honey, oats, and pecans but still gives you that “sweet” fix. Following this article, I have included a simple recipe that has been modified from the traditional dish into an even more flavorful desire.

Dinner Rolls might be the most common side at every Thanksgiving dinner. Who doesn’t love a warm, fluffy bun where the butter just melts right into the bright pillowy center. This is a side that could be enjoyed as is, especially when paired with butter and turkey. A well-rounded meal contains a carb, protein and fat and when you pair your lightly buttered dinner roll with turkey, you are getting all three. Learning to make dishes healthier doesn’t have to be complicated and shouldn’t be! Check out some of these delicious recipes for your next Thanksgiving dinner.

Sweet Potato Casserole (8 Servings):

For the Potatoes:
3 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 3 large or 5 medium)
2 ½ Tbsp. raw honey
½ cup cashew milk (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 pinch of ground allspice
¼ tsp. salt

For the Topping:
¼ cup oat flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup coconut sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
3 Tbsp. coconut oil

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2) Wash sweet potatoes and use a fork to pole holes: about 4-5 pokes per potato. Place the potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour or until tender. Allow potatoes to cool for at least 10 minutes and reduce the oven temp. to 350 degrees F.
3) Spray an 8x8 inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
4) Scoop out the inside of potatoes and place into a large bowl. Discard skins. To the potatoes add raw honey, cashew milk, vanilla, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Beat the mixture until smooth. Pour into prepared baking dish and smooth out the top.
5) For the topping: Whisk together flour, oats, sugar and pecans. Stir in melted better using a fork, until crumbly. Sprinkle over top of sweet potato mixture.
6) Bake 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Green Bean Casserole (8-10 servings)

For the Crispy Onions:
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
½ cup oat flour
½ cup panko breadcrumbs (can also use gluten-free)
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt

For the Green Beans:
2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed (or 2 lbs. frozen or 2 (15-oz. cans), rinsed and drained)

For the Mushrooms:
2 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. baby bella mushrooms (sliced)
1 tsp. fresh thyme (1/4 to ½ tsp. dried thyme)
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the Sauce:
2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup oat flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cloves garlic, minced (or ½ tsp. pre-minced)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
2) Place sliced onions in a large bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add in flour, breadcrumbs, garlic powder and salt. Toss to combine. Spread onions onto baking sheet. Bake 15-25 minutes, tossing every 8-10 minutes until crispy.
3) Once done, set onions aside. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F.
4) Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add green beans in two batches, cooking for about 2-3 minutes each. Remove first batch from the water using a serrated spoon into a large bowl. Repeat with second batch of green beans. Set aside. If using canned green beans (rinsed and drained), skip this step.
5) Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add in 2 tablespoons of butter. Once butter melts, add in mushrooms, thyme and salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are golden brown: about 4-6 minutes. Transfer to bowl.
6) In the same skillet add in 2 tablespoons of butter and place over medium heat. Once butter melts, whisk in flour and cook 15-30 seconds until a paste forms, then slowly whisk in chicken broth while continuing to whisk vigorously.
7) Once smooth, increase heat, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring every so often until sauce thickens.
8) Once thick, turn off the heat and stir in the minced garlic and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
9) Coat a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick spray. Add in green beans, mushrooms and ¼ of the crispy onions- gently toss together.
10) Pour the sauce over and stir until well combined. Cover with foil and bake 25-30 minutes. Remove foil, add the remaining crispy onions on top and bake for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy!

Cassie Oman

Cassandra R. Oman is a dietetic student at Minnesota State University in Mankato, MN. After completing my bachelor’s degree in Family Consumer Science- Dietetics, I plan on attending graduate school to obtain my master’s in dietetics. A few things I love most with nutrition is trying new recipes, figuring out ways I can make a dish more balanced and I have always been fascinated by carbohydrates and their significance to active lifestyles. I personally am a very active person and enjoy walking, running and CrossFit. Being an active person most of my life has taught me the importance of fueling my body with good food and sparked my interest in becoming a Registered Dietitian.

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