3 Healthy Side Dishes You Need at Your Table This Thanksgiving


Happy Week of Thanksgiving, friends!

Can you believe it’s already here? Where in the world did November go? Next thing we know it’s going to be Christmas! But hey, I’m not complaining. I’m super excited about the upcoming holiday season, and I am SO ready for it to be 2017. Helloooooo Year Of My Wedding. ; )

This past weekend I celebrated “Friendsgiving” with some of my closest friends, and it was an absolute blast. (For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is when you celebrate Thanksgiving with FRIENDS. The name says it all, right?) Not only did I get to spend quality time with some of my favorite people whom I don’t get to see very often, but I also got to eat my first Thanksgiving feast of the year! One of FOUR, might I add. Lord help me. Time to whip out the stretchy pants. I was genuinely impressed at the collective cooking skills of all my friends. The spread was amazing — we had everything from salads, green bean casserole, homemade stuffing, crescent rolls, two types of cheesy corn (Ethan was very excited about the variety of cheesy corn available), sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, ham, of course, a big ol’ turkey, and allllllllllll the pie, plus So. Much. More.

Ethan & I gettin’ fancy for Friendsgiving 2016

Everything was delicious! I was overwhelmed with all the options. For the first time possibly ever at a Thanksgiving meal, I managed to not completely overdo it. I filled my plate with bigger servings of healthier items including salad and my contributions (which you will soon learn more about), and lean white turkey meat, and smaller portions of things like mashed potatoes and cheesy corn. This time around I tried to shift my focus to the people and the conversations, rather than overindulging on every delicious-looking food item and then feeling uncomfortably full for the remainder of the night. I’m happy to say I succeeded in that, for once! I just love food so much, and I typically struggle with self-control in situations like Thanksgiving, when it’s just a total free-for-all. I am not afraid to admit that because I know the struggle is real for almost all of us, which is why I’m so proud that I managed to control myself at Friendsgiving. I even fully enjoyed some dessert, without feeling any guilt, and you should too! Don’t be afraid to dig into that pecan pie or pumpkin cheesecake! You deserve it. Now let’s see if I can control myself just as much at Thanksgiving number two, three and four! 🙂

The items that I contributed included Healthy Greek Yogurt Corn Dip as an appetizer (recipe on my Side Dishes & Dips page), Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad, and Sweet Potato Casserole! I made the Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad for the first time a few weeks ago, and I just knew I had to make it again for Thanksgiving. It encompasses so many delicious fall flavors all in one dish, and it’s a great, healthy option that you should definitely include on your table this year. I also made Sweet Potato Casserole, which I have surprisingly never made before! It was a little time consuming (mostly because I doubled it), but I really enjoyed making it and I was SO happy with the final product. This recipe is healthier than most versions of sweet potato casserole, but you truly don’t sacrifice any of the flavor. There is so much natural sweetness from the sweet potatoes themselves, plus just a little bit of honey and brown sugar, not to mention the perfect amount of crunch from the pecans sprinkled all over the top.

I loved both of these recipes so much, and found that everyone else at Friendsgiving actually loved them too, even after they found out they were healthy! 😉 I just knew I had to share them with you all!


Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad — original recipe from Joyful Healthy Eats

Gluten Free, Vegetarian; Serves 8-10


  • 2½ cups butternut squash, cut into ½” cubes (about 1 half butternut squash)*
  • 1½ cups red onion, cut into ½” cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (I skipped the salt and didn’t miss it!) 
  • 1 cup uncooked rainbow quinoa**
  • 2 cups water
  • ⅓ cup dried cherries (reduced sugar if available)
  • ¼ cup pepitas
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 heaping tablespoons crumbed feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons raw honey
  • Dash of ground cinnamon

*If you have never cut into a butternut squash before, head over to Gimme Some Oven for step-by-step instructions on how to do it! I found her post to be super helpful, because this was my first time making butternut squash, believe it or not! You can always take the easy route too (no shame in that) and get it pre-cubed at the store in the refrigerated area of the produce section. 

**It doesn’t have to be rainbow quinoa, but I love the extra color that it adds to the dish!

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Add the cut up butternut squash and red onion to a large bowl. Season with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of sea salt (if using). Toss to coat, then transfer to a baking sheet (line with aluminum foil to minimize clean up).

3. Bake the mixture for 20 minutes.

4. In the meantime, add 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water to a small saucepan. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat, let the quinoa sit for 2 minutes then fluff with a fork.

5. To make the dressing, mix 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp of olive oil, raw honey, and ground cinnamon in a small dish. Stir to combine.

6. To a large bowl, add the cooked quinoa, butternut squash, red onion, dried cherries, pepitas, parsley, feta cheese, and prepared dressing. Gently toss to mix everything together.



really love this recipe served hot, but it also tastes great as a cold salad for leftovers the next few days! Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

On to the next one, sweet potato casserole! My newest obsession.

Sweet Potato-Pecan Casserole — recipe from Pop Sugar Fitness


  • 5 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (divided)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup pecan halves (optional: used these to line the outside of the pan)
  • Cooking spray


  1. Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a pot with a large steamer basket in place. Place the sweet potatoes in the basket, cover, and steam until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.*

2. When the sweet potatoes have about 15 minutes left, preheat your oven to 350 F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.** (I made a double batch, which is why you’ll see a 9×13 dish in my pictures.) 

3. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a bowl, and let cool for a few minutes. Add the honey, egg, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt; whip with an electric mixer until smooth.


4. Spread the sweet potato mixture in the prepared baking dish; use a spatula to make it flat across the top and even around the edges.

5. Mix the brown sugar, chopped pecans, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly over the top of the potatoes.

6. Place pecan halves around the edges of the pan if desired. Bake until hot and beginning to brown around the edges, approximately 40 to 45 minutes.


*Make sure you have enough water in the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t boil away in those 20 minutes and burn the bottom of your pan… Needless to say I learned that the hard way.

**For Friendsgiving I doubled this recipe and filled up a 9×13 casserole dish. There were about 20 people there, and I had tons of leftovers! Keep in mind that people take a little bit of everything on Thanksgiving since there are so many options, so if you think you need to double this, think again! I think the original recipe would make plenty for most families. 


Lastly, I have to include an oldie but goodie — Whipped Cauliflower. I will never tire of this recipe, and it is appropriate all year round! However, I know everyone especially loves their mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, which are often filled with loads of butter, cream, whole milk, sour cream, etc. AKA not always the healthiest ingredients in the world. While I totally believe in treating yourself every now and then (especially on this day), but I also think that it is awesome to substitute healthy items whenever you can so you can splurge on other things that you love even more, like PIE. 😉

Whipped Cauliflower Recipe:


  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 tbsp butter*
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

*I use Smart Balance light buttery spread with flaxseed oil. It has 50 calories per tbsp instead of 100, less fat, and added nutrients!



  1. Place a steamer insert into a saucepan and fill with water to just below the bottom of the steamer.
  2. Cover and bring water to a boil over high heat. Add cauliflower, re-cover pan and steam until soft (10-15 minutes).


3. When cauliflower is soft, transfer to a blender or food processor (I use my small Ninja). Add other ingredients; 1 tbsp butter, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper, and a small portion of the milk. Cover with lid and blend to combine for 30 seconds or so.


4. Remove lid and scrape sides down with a spoon. Add remaining 1 tbsp of butter and slowly add milk as needed. (Note: you may not need the full amount of liquid. Add until you reach desired consistency. If you add too much too quickly, the final product may turn out to be too watery.) 


5. Continue to blend until spices are well distributed and desired consistency is reached.


I hope that one or all of these side dishes will make an appearance at your dinner table this Thanksgiving! Don’t forget to treat yourself a little this year, and most of all, be thankful for the people and the delicious food with which you have been blessed. We tend to take these things for granted on a day-to-day basis, but Thanksgiving Day is a perfect time to sit back and be truly grateful! If you have one (or five) too many pieces of dessert, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get back to your normal routine on Friday! One day of healthy eating won’t make you skinny, just like one day of unhealthy eating won’t make you fat. Everything in moderation, people! 🙂

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Shanna, RD


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