Holiday dinners are full of comfort foods. From green bean casserole to yams with marshmallows, there’s no end to tasty, filling classic side dishes. If you’re trying to follow a healthy diet, they can make it tough to stick to your goals. Not only can a single side dish have enough calories and sodium for an entire meal, leftovers mean that you might be snacking on the same salt-, sugar-, and calorie-heavy foods for a while. Fortunately, there are some side dishes that are both delicious and healthy.
1. Squash torte.
This dish tastes good and looks fancy but is deceptively simple. Cut squash into thin slices, and layer in a rosette in a cast-iron skillet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with parmesan, thyme, and a sprinkle of sea salt. You’ll get plenty of flavors, as well as fiber, potassium, and vitamin A from the squash. Olive oil is also chock-full of anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
2. Seasonal salad.
Salads are usually considered a summer food, but they can have a place at your holiday table, too. Warm spinach salad, featuring fresh spinach lightly wilted in a pan and dressed with walnut vinaigrette and homemade croutons, provides fiber, potassium, iron, and heart-healthy fats. You can also add other seasonal fruits, nuts, and vegetables, like apples and radishes.
3. Roasted root vegetables.
Slice potatoes, yams, turnips, and carrots, toss them lightly in olive or grapeseed oil, and season with sage, rosemary, thyme, and a sprinkle of sea salt. (Leave the skins on for more fiber.) Roast them for about 45-55 minutes at 400°F. Potatoes and yams are loaded with potassium, while carrots provide vitamin A. All the vegetables offer plenty of fiber, which helps boost satiety, control blood sugar, and improve blood lipids. For an even healthier dish, roast the vegetables the day before, chill them, then pop them back in the oven for ten minutes to heat them up again. This allows the potatoes and yams to convert some of their starch to resistant starch, which has a lower glycemic impact.
4. Caramelized Brussels sprouts.
Allow sliced Brussels sprouts to brown in an oiled cast-iron skillet for 3-5 minutes. If you avoid stirring them in the beginning, it gives them a chance to brown and caramelize their natural sugars, giving them a deeper, sweeter flavor. You can make a homemade glaze and finish them in the oven for 3 minutes or stir in the glaze and continue to cook on the stovetop. Brussels sprouts are naturally low in calories (only 56 per cup), and are rich in vitamins C and K, as well as iron, calcium, and potassium.
5. Green beans and thyme.
The key to delicious green beans is keeping the cooking time short and plunging them into an ice bath afterward. They’re very easy to overcook, which dulls their color, makes them mushy and ruins the flavor. Instead, trim and tail green beans, cut into 2″ pieces, and blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain the beans and drop them immediately into an ice bath to halt the cooking process. They should be bright green and crisp. Drain the beans, and mix the sea salt, fresh or dried thyme, and olive oil. Toss the beans in this mixture. You’ll get healthy fats from olive oil, and fiber, folate, vitamin K, niacin, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and more from the beans.
6. Whole grain salads.
Salads made with brown rice, farro, or bulgur wheat offer comforting carbs, with all of the benefits of whole grains and vegetables. Add walnuts or pecans, dried cranberries or raisins, fresh parsley, scallions, and a sprinkle of goat cheese for flavor. It’s filling, fiber-rich, packed with healthy fats from the nuts, and has B vitamins, copper, zinc, and magnesium from the grains.
7. Citrus salad.
One of the most flavorful salads is also the simplest to make. Peel and separate navel or blood oranges into sections. Remove the white outer membrane from each section and set the sections aside. Thinly slice a red onion. Combine apple cider vinegar, honey, sea salt, and cayenne pepper to taste. Toss the orange sections and onion in the honey dressing. Serve as-is, or over spinach. This salad is full of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean skipping the side dishes at your holiday meals. It also doesn’t mean you have to substitute calorie-dense ingredients for hydrogenated chemical substitutes, either. These side dishes are comforting, flavorful, easy, and good for you.