Halfway Homemade: Easy Holiday Side Dishes

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 27, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

On the run this holiday season? Save time in the kitchen with some fun, festive, and fast side dishes to round out your table.

Nutritionist Layne Lieberman, RD, has some ideas.

“Rather than slaving over a hot stove, choose simple, seasonal, and healthy recipes. Use shortcuts when they save time and money. And doctor up prepared foods when it’s worthwhile,” says Lieberman, who is the author of the book Beyond the Mediterranean Diet.

Here are her favorite holiday sides adapted from the book that do exactly that. They’re made with whole grains and seasonal vegetables, so your guests will leave the table feeling satisfied, not stuffed.

Roasted, Hearty Holiday Vegetables

  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, cut into halves
  • 1 medium cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 6 medium carrots, sliced coin size
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, whole
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread out vegetables in a large roasting pan and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with oregano, salt, and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes. Before serving, drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon good-quality extra virgin olive oil and adjust salt and pepper.

Serves 6

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:

Calories: 101

Fat: 3.9g

Carbs 15.7g

Protein 3.9g

Why you’ll love it. “You’ll get delicious, caramelized flavor from the high heat,” Lieberman says. Roasting also protects nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and folate.

Make it easier. Buy frozen veggies. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and strain excess water. This will shorten cooking time to 25-30 minutes.

Creamy Sweet-Potato Custard

  • 3 1/2 cups cooked sweet potato (2 medium potatoes, steamed and cooled, or a little less than 2 15-ounce cans)
  • 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 eggs plus 4 egg whites, beaten
  • 1 cup fat-free milk or almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor until smooth. Spritz a 9-inch, round glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour mixture into baking dish. Bake 55-60 minutes or until set. Cool for 1-2 hours. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Serves 8

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:

Calories: 108

Fat: 1.3g

Carbs 18.7g

Protein 5.6g

Why you’ll love it. “The texture is so nice. It’s that creaminess we love during the holidays,” Lieberman says. Sweet potatoes pack a nutritional punch. They’re high in fiber and loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium.

Make it easier. Buy canned sweet potatoes. Drain and rinse before using.

Quinoa Risotto

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed with hot water in a mesh strainer
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth, low sodium
  • 2 cups arugula, chopped
  • 1 cup shiitake or white-button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas (if frozen, thaw)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large, nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent (4-5 minutes). Add quinoa and stir for 1 minute. Add vegetable broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until quinoa is still firm, but not hard. (10-12 minutes). Stir in arugula, mushrooms, and peas. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5-8 minutes. (Quinoa grains will become clear.) Stir in cheese; season with black pepper.

Serves 6

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:

Calories: 220

Fat: 7.49

Carbs 28g

Protein 12g

Why you’ll love it. Traditional risotto is made with rice, but quinoa adds a rich texture. It’s gluten-free, packed with protein, iron, and magnesium, and perfect for vegetarians.

Make it easier. Use pre-grated cheese or no cheese at all. Swap arugula for greens you have on hand, like spinach or kale.

Beet and Arugula Salad With Farmer Cheese

  • 4 peeled and steamed beets (available vacuum-packed in produce aisle)
  • 1 package (5 ounces) baby arugula
  • 1 cup crumbled farmer cheese
  • Balsamic glaze (sold near vinegars in grocery store)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Combine ingredients. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve.

Serves 6

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:

Calories: 173

Fat: 9.8 g

Carbs: 9.9g

Protein 10.9g

Why you’ll love it. “I love farmer cheese. It’s milder than other cheeses and lower in fat,” Lieberman says. Low-fat, low-sodium, folate-rich beets add nutrition, flavor, and a pop of beautiful, burgundy color.

Make it easier. Find farmer cheese in the dairy case, near cottage cheese. No luck? Use goat cheese. No time for toasting? Skip the nuts.

(BONUS) Easiest Side Dish Ever: Whole Wheat Couscous

You can buy it in a box. “It’s an instant side dish,” says Lieberman. To make it exceptional, follow package directions but swap water for reduced-sodium broth, and add scallions and parsley before the couscous. “When it’s done, fluff it with a fork and serve,” she says.

Serves 8

Nutritional Facts Per Serving:

Calories: 155

Fat: 1g

Carbs: 31g

Protein 6g

Show Sources


Layne Lieberman, MS, RD, CDN, nutritionist; author, Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy, WorldRD LLC, 2013.

Produce for Better Health Foundation, Fruits & Veggies More Matters: “Vegetable Nutrition Database.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dieticians: “It’s About Eating Right.”

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