Fitness & Nutrition

10 Healthy Holiday Side Dishes

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
Amin Fakhari/Unsplash

Many people fear they will pack on pounds during the holiday season because of the abundance of indulgent dishes and tasty treats served at dinners, parties, and work events. 

Although enjoying your favorite recipes can be an important part of the holiday tradition, making sure that you balance your diet with nutritious foods can help you stay happy and healthy this holiday season.

Here are 10 healthy side dishes perfect for seasonal celebrations. 

1. Brussels sprout slaw with manchego

Brussels sprouts are nutrient-dense cruciferous vegetables that offer an abundance of health benefits. For example, Brussels sprouts are rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants including kaempferol, which has been shown to provide neuroprotective, anticancer, and heart health promoting effects (1).

Even though this vegetable is highly nutritious, many people don’t like the taste of Brussels sprouts, especially when they develop a mushy texture after being cooked.

To make a holiday side dish that everyone will love, try out this Brussels sprout slaw recipe that combines crispy, raw Brussels sprouts with other tasty ingredients like almonds and manchego cheese.

2. Paleo sweet potato and cranberry stuffing

While traditional bread-based stuffing recipes are usually delicious, they can be high in calories and full of ingredients that aren’t good for overall health.

For a nutritious spin on traditional stuffing, try out this inventive recipe that uses sweet potatoes instead of bread as a base. Sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients including vitamin C and provitamin A and provide an excellent source of filling fiber. 

Leave out the sausage and add legumes for a punch of plant-based protein for a vegetarian-friendly version.

3. Cauliflower butternut squash and sage mash

If you’re looking for a tasty side dish, try this flavorful mash recipe that uses cauliflower and butternut squash as stand-ins for regular old potatoes. 

Both cauliflower and butternut squash offer an abundance of nutrients that can benefit health in many ways. They are both teeming with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber—which can help boost the health of your digestive system (2, 3).

Sage not only adds flavor to this mash, but it boosts the health benefits thanks to the abundance of powerful plant compounds contained within its pleasant-tasting leaves including flavonoid antioxidants and essential oils (4).

4. Quinoa stuffed acorn squash 

Acorn squash are small in size and make a perfect vessel for a nutritious stuffing mixture when cut in half and roasted. Acorn squash are loaded with carotenoid antioxidants like beta-carotene, which may provide immune-boosting effects and enhance the health of the eyes, heart, and brain (5).

Quinoa, on the other hand, is a highly nutritious, gluten-free pseudo-cereal that’s packed with plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals (6).

Try this recipe for quinoa stuffed acorn squash to impress even the most hard-to-please dinner guests.

5. Harvest stuffed sweet potatoes 

This recipe for stuffed sweet potatoes makes an excellent side dish to bring to holiday dinners and can also be used to make a quick, hearty meal for you and your family on cold winter nights.

To make this recipe more filling,  add an additional source of protein such as fried eggs, roast chicken, or chickpeas. 

The cranberries and Bartlett pears add a subtle hint of sweetness while the walnuts provide a crunchy texture. Leave out the maple syrup to reduce your added sugar intake and create a more savory tasting stuffed sweet potato. 

6. Parmesan crusted delicata squash rings 

Unlike most holiday appetizers, this recipe for parmesan crusted delicata squash is both delicious and nutritious. 

Delicata squash have a sweet, nutty flavor and are high in many nutrients, including provitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium—a mineral essential for  blood pressure regulation, muscle function, and nerve transmission (7, 8).

Sprinkle the finished product with fresh, chopped herbs like basil and oregano and serve with a no-sugar-added marinara dipping sauce for a super healthy holiday side dish.

7. Herb stuffed mushrooms 

Mushrooms are packed with health-promoting nutrients like B vitamins, copper, and potassium. They are especially high in selenium, a mineral that acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body and plays essential roles in DNA synthesis and hormone metabolism (9, 10).

This recipe loads mushroom caps with a mixture of almond flour, sun-dried tomatoes, nutritional yeast, and fresh herbs like parsley and mint, all of which provide a number of benefits. 

For example, nutritional yeast adds a boost of B vitamins while the fresh herbs offer a wide array of potent plant compounds that can help boost overall health (11).

8. Kale salad with apples and cheddar 

There’s no doubt that kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat, providing over 100% of the daily value for vitamin K1, provitamin A, and vitamin C in just one cup. It’s also a great source of manganese, a mineral that’s important for the health of the skeletal and immune systems (12, 13).

Pairing kale with tart apples, chopped almonds, and creamy cheddar cheese creates a flavor combination that is sure to wow your holiday guests. 

When following this recipe, be sure to finely chop your kale to make it tender and pleasing to eat.

9. Crockpot rosemary, carrot, and parsnip mash

Having a crockpot makes creating healthy holiday side dishes a breeze. This super nutritious recipe combines carrots, parsnips, and rosemary to create a delectable mash.

Parsnips make an excellent substitute for potatoes and are chock full of nutrients including vitamin C and folate—a B vitamin that’s critical for fetal development and the production of red blood cells and DNA (14).

Carrots are also a nutritious choice, providing a dose of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants like beta-carotene and lutein (15).

10. Garlic roasted broccoli

This garlic roasted broccoli recipe combines two of the most nutritious foods you can eat into one mouthwatering side dish.

Fresh garlic is a concentrated source of sulfur compounds including allicin and ajoene, which may provide anticancer, antimicrobial, and antidiabetic effects according to scientific research (16).

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that’s a hit with adults and children alike. This tasty vegetable is a concentrated source of folate, magnesium, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, provitamin A, and vitamin K1 (17). 

Broccoli also contains a wide array of antioxidants such as kaempferol, quercetin, and sulforaphane, all of which offer an abundance of health-promoting effects (18). 

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