Brussels sprouts

Healthy Thanksgiving Sides and Sweets

Pro tips for health-conscious holiday meal prep.

When I’m dreaming about holiday food, Thanksgiving is by far my favorite. In my world, nothing beats a plate of turkey, its partners on the side and the grand finale — dessert. As a registered dietitian and chef, I spend most of my time focusing on making food delicious and nutritious.

I don’t believe that there are bad foods and tend to focus more on an everything-in-moderation approach, but holiday meals can easily become excessive and leave you feeling overstuffed and tired.

So how do we get all the goodies without going overboard? Enter fruits and vegetables. I look to the sides and the dessert as opportunities to get creative and amp up the healthy side of things.

Let’s tackle sides first. Here are some ideas for healthy Thanksgiving sides that will be sure to please even the most traditional Thanksgiving guests.

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  • Go raw: A fresh salad made with greens, a variety of chopped vegetables and a crisp dressing is a great way to add vegetables to the meal. Throw in some toasted hazelnuts for crunch, and you’ll have a winner. A riff on a Caesar salad is also a great option. Shaved raw Brussels sprouts pair beautifully with a vegan Caesar dressing and toasted walnuts. Or make a slaw with shredded beets and apples or grated fennel, celery root and apple tossed in a vinaigrette. Having a side that doesn’t require the stove or oven will allow you some wiggle room if timing becomes an issue and can be easily prepped the day ahead.
  • Swap out the high-fat dairy: Mashed potatoes are often full of butter and cream. Swap out the cream and use reduced-fat milk in its place or remove the cow’s milk dairy entirely and look to vegetable broth and herbs or plant-based milk.
  • Skip the casseroles: Many casseroles, such as green bean casserole or potato gratin, contain a lot of ingredients that are high in fat and calories. A great replacement could be sautéed garlic and green beans topped with crispy shallots. Roasted vegetables are always a crowd-pleaser as well. Try some parsnips and tricolor carrots roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper and a touch of maple syrup.


Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts

I like to integrate fruit into desserts wherever possible. While it may be difficult to veer from the traditional pumpkin or pecan pie, adding in some lighter, fruit-based options can help to round out the meal.

One of my favorite fruits to use for dessert or sweet treats is the pear. Pears are full of nutrients, such as fiber and vitamin C, taste great and hold up well when cooked. Pears can be used in a free-form galette with an almond-flecked crust or as the highlight of a lighter, egg-based custard “pie.” Perhaps one of my favorite ways to cook pears for dessert is poaching. It is a simple dish to make, can be prepared ahead and fills up the kitchen with a cozy, warming aroma. The following recipe for my pomegranate poached pears is a family favorite.


Pomegranate Poached Pears

Pear and pomegranate dish

Yields 6 servings


  • 1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup maple sugar or maple syrup
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 medium pears
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 4 slices orange

Optional topping:

  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche, mascarpone or ricotta
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest


  1. In a large high-sided skillet or saucepan, add pomegranate juice, wine, maple sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves, and mix well. Cover, turn heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Peel pears, leaving stem attached. Using a melon baller or metal spoon, core the bottom of the pear.
  3. Add pears, orange zest and orange slices to the skillet. Cover and cook 15 minutes, turning pears occasionally, until tender when pierced at the thickest part.
  4. Cool pears in the skillet then transfer pears and liquid to a container. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.
  5. In a bowl, whip together yogurt, crème fraîche and orange zest.
  6. Cut pears in half.
  7. To serve, place one half of a pear in a bowl, top with yogurt mixture and spoon some poaching liquid around the pear.

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