Healthy holiday sides – Tufts

This Thanksgiving don’t abandon healthy habits…celebrate them. Whether you are getting together virtually or in person, seasonal produce brings color, flavor, variety, and nutrition to your table. What better way to carry on the Thanksgiving tradition than to celebrate with a table laden with seasonal plant-based foods—as we give thanks for the Earth’s nourishing and delicious bounty.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Focus on Fall Flavor: Autumn’s array of produce—like winter squashes, apples, root vegetables, cranberries, and pomegranates—are packed with nutrients, fiber, and other health-promoting bioactive compounds. “When you bring in variety from plant foods, you satisfy the desire for flavor without excessive calories, and you feel very satisfied,” says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

Many traditional Thanksgiving sides—like sweet potatoes with marshmallows and creamy green bean casserole—have lots of added sugars and saturated fat. “Most things taste good with sugar and butter,” Roberts says, “but you can also prepare many tasty things without, and enjoy something a little different, or even completely new.”

If nothing says “celebration” like sweet, add fruit to vegetable dishes for sweetness without added sugar. Richly colored, naturally sweet, and packed with nutrients, seasonal fruit is a crowd-pleaser. Apple makes a great compliment to sweet potatoes; dried apricots or prunes add earthy sweetness to roasted root vegetables; pears, berries, and persimmons make a delicious addition to salads; and pomegranate arils are gorgeous sprinkled over most any dish before serving. A dash of cinnamon or nutmeg adds depth and fall flavor.

Cooking method influences flavor as well. Roasting vegetables, for example, causes caramelization, intensifying their natural sweetness (see below for Dr. Lichtenstein’s veggie roasting instructions).

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