Thanksgiving Side Dishes: Recipes

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on August 20, 2014
From the WebMD Archives

Traditional green bean casserole or sweet potatoes are classic side dishes at Thanksgiving. This year, why not add one or two new seasonal sides?

Choose from Brussels sprouts and bacon, quinoa pilaf with cranberries and pecans, or cauliflower gratin.

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon


8 cups trimmed and halved Brussels sprouts (quartered, if large), about 2 pounds

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped shallot (about 2 large shallots)

5 slices turkey bacon, finely chopped (6 slices center-cut bacon can be substituted, but then delete the olive oil)

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme (1/2 teaspoon dried thyme can be substituted)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Put Brussels sprouts in a large microwave-safe dish. Cover the Brussels sprouts with cold water, and then use a lid to drain most of the water out of the dish. Cover the dish and microwave on high until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, put olive oil in a large nonstick frying pan and heat over medium-high. Stir in the shallot and bacon pieces over medium-high heat until onion is golden and bacon is browned and crisp (about 3 minutes).
  3. Reduce heat to moderate and stir in Brussels sprouts, thyme, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for a minute or 2 to blend flavors and allow flat edges of Brussels sprouts to brown.

Yield: Makes about 8 servings

Per serving: 135 calories, 8 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fat, 1.3 grams saturated fat, 3.2 grams monounsaturated fat, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 6 grams fiber, 250 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 40%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.2 grams, Omega-6 fatty acids = 1.1

Quinoa Pilaf With Cranberries and Pecans

Quinoa Pilaf Ingredients:

2 cups dry whole-grain quinoa

4 cups water

2/3 cup dried cranberries

4 to 6 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

1 cup finely chopped celery

2/3 cup toasted pecan pieces

Citrus Vinaigrette Ingredients:

4 tablespoons lemon juice

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Add quinoa and water to rice cooker, and cook until quinoa is soft and water has been absorbed. Add quinoa to large serving bowl and let cool about 15 minutes. If you don’t have a rice cooker, bring 4 cups of water to a boil in 4-quart saucepan. Add quinoa and bring back to boil. Cover saucepan and cook over medium heat for 12 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed all the water.
  2. Stir dried cranberries, red onion, celery, and pecans into quinoa.
  3. In a small bowl, combine citrus vinaigrette ingredients with a whisk. Drizzle over quinoa mixture and toss to blend ingredients. Cover and refrigerate pilaf until ready to serve.

Yield: Makes about 12 side servings

Per serving: 227 calories, 5 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams fat, 1.1 grams saturated fat, 7 grams monounsaturated fat, 2.9 grams polyunsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3.3 grams fiber, 58 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 43%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.2 grams, Omega-6 fatty acids = 2.7 grams.

Cauliflower Au Gratin


1 medium head cauliflower

3 tablespoons chopped shallots

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup vegetable broth (or golden mushroom canned soup)

1 cup whole milk (low fat milk can be substituted)

1 teaspoon horseradish (or to taste)

Black pepper to taste

Salt to taste (optional)

2/3 cup shredded Gruyere cheese, packed (Swiss cheese or Jarlsberg can be substituted)


  1. Cut the cauliflower into small florets (reserve the stems), and microwave on HIGH in a microwave-safe covered dish until tender (about 2 minutes).
  2. Start to heat a nonstick frying pan or skillet to medium-low, and coat the pan with canola cooking spray. Add the coarsely chopped cauliflower stems, shallots, and garlic, and gently sauté until soft (do not brown). Add the vegetable broth and cook until the stock is almost evaporated. Transfer to a food processor or blender along with the milk, and pulse until fairly smooth. Add the horseradish and season with pepper (and salt if desired) to taste.
  3. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with canola cooking spray. Add the cauliflower florets to the dish and pour the milk mixture over the top. Gently toss to blend. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake at 350-degrees for about 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

Yield: Makes 6 servings (double recipe if 12 servings are needed and use a 9 x 13-inch baking dish)

Per serving: 107 calories, 7 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 1.6 grams monounsaturated fat, .4 grams polyunsaturated fat, 17 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber, 240 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 40 percent. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.2 gram, Omega-6 fatty acids = 0.2 grams.

Watching Salt and Saturated Fat?

No matter what side dishes you're cooking for Thanksgiving, these tips will help you keep the sodium and saturated fat in check -- without giving up taste.

Switch to olive oil or canola oil when possible instead of butter, shortening, (monounsaturated fat and plant omega-3s).

Use less butter or get rid of it if possible. Many side dishes call for butter. You can use a lot less for some of them, and for others, you can leave out the butter completely.

Instead of cream, use whole milk or fat-free half-and-half. If cream is added in liquid form to a recipe (not whipped), then you can usually switch to whole milk or fat-free half and half and have the same desirable results.

Use less sugar. Side dishes that call for sugar or brown sugar will usually be just as tasty with one-fourth or one-third less sugar. If a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, try adding 2/3 cup or 3/4 cup.

Switch to lower-sodium broth. You can dial back sodium levels by using lower-sodium broth in side dishes such as green bean casserole, stuffing, or butternut squash recipes.

Taste before you shake the salt. Many side dish recipes call for adding salt even when other sodium-containing ingredients are included, such as bacon and broth. Don't add any of the salt called for and taste it at the end. Your guests can add salt if necessary at the table.