Oh, Thanksgiving: it might just be the best eating day of the year. And, depending on who you ask, the feast is not as much about the perfectly roasted turkey as it is about the plates full of delicious side dishes that dress the turkey and take it to the next level.
Of course, there’s one little problem with Thanksgiving, and it’s the holiday’s reputation for gluttony: many people even ditch traditional pants for elastic-waist ones so they can take second, third and fourth servings of the feast without feeling any mid-meal discomfort. There’s never anything wrong with indulging — and it’s a holiday, after all — but Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be entirely about overdoing it with dishes that are over-the-top rich and unhealthy.
We’ve gathered some proof, too: five side dishes that are equally as delicious as they are healthy. We bet you’ll want seconds, thirds and fourths of these dishes, too — and you won’t even notice that your extra-large feast is one that’s good for you, too.
Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without at least one cheese-laden dish, and this tray of spinach gratin will tick that box on your list of must-haves. But this recipe, topped with gooey Swiss or Gruyere, has a super-healthy ingredient instead of starchy white potatoes that typically come with a gratin-style dish.
Spinach is packed with the vitamins and minerals that your body needs and, often times, craves. It’s also chock full of antioxidants that block free radicals from entering your body, which is particularly important in the colon. Spinach can strengthen your entire cardiovascular system, and the magnesium contained within its dark-green leaves can lower your blood pressure, too. A dish packed with spinach can even improve your mental clarity, the perfect ingredient for a reasonable Black Friday trip to the mall.
Sweet potato casserole is another Thanksgiving classic. You can imagine that a dish filled with sugar and topped with marshmallows isn’t necessarily the healthiest option when it comes to sides. This recipe, which includes all-natural maple syrup instead of processed candies, lets the sweet potato shine instead of its sugary co-ingredients.
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Sweet potatoes deserve the spotlight, too. They’re jam-packed with Vitamin A, which has been shown to be a great tool in cancer prevention, as well as in maintaining one’s eyesight and fighting the signs of aging. They also have fewer calories than white potatoes and are naturally low in sodium, which makes them a healthy addition to your Thanksgiving table.
Butternut squash is a definite fall flavor that you’ll find in plenty of hearty soup recipes around this time of year. But it can also lay a delicious base for our next healthy side dish suggestion, where mushrooms and quinoa bring even more flavor to this already tasty gourd.
We could highlight many of the ingredients in this side dish as good-for-you, but let’s focus on quinoa for now, as it has become a big buzzword in the world of health — and rightfully so. There are many reasons why quinoa is so healthy. For one, it contains all nine amino acids, along with magnesium, fiber, iron and vitamin E. Plus, you can get protein from a serving of quinoa, a fact which will make the vegetarians at your Thanksgiving feast very pleased.
It’s a quintessential part of your Thanksgiving feast, but that canned soup (and potentially the canned green beans, too) has a ton of sodium. As such, some pioneering Thanksgiving dinner-makers have found a way to make the classic dish with fresh, natural ingredients that are much healthier and, perhaps, even tastier than the original version.
A fresh bunch of green beans offer you so many health benefits and they’re tasty, to boot. Surprisingly, green beans contain a sizeable supply of silicon, which is a vital element in bone health and a rare element to find in such abundance in food. But green beans contain it and calcium, which make them great for building strong bones, among their many other merits.
Finally, your slice of Thanksgiving turkey would not be complete without a sweet ladle of cranberry sauce. As you can imagine, though, canned varieties are full of sugar — plus, they have that less-than-appetizing shake of a plate of Jell-O-O. This year, ditch your favorite brand in favor of making your own bowl full of fresh cranberry relish.
You probably already know that berries in general are a great source of antioxidants, and cranberries are no exception. But their unique formula of the good stuff makes them best for maintaining the health of your urinary tract. Cranberries also promote oral health by stopping acid production around teeth that can cause damage and cavities; in other words, apple pie will not hurt your chompers this year.
How will you update your Thanksgiving feast to feature healthy ingredients and pared-down versions of your indulgent favorites? No matter which you choose, you’ll barely notice the difference as you dig into fresh, homemade fare — and eat every last body-bettering crumb.
Kacey is a lifestyle blogger for The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations and cultures, all while portraying her love for the world around her through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts.