Healthiest Thanksgiving Sides

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In our humble opinion, Thanksgiving is superior to any other day of the year. In an effort to make this year's feast the best of all time (sorry, Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe), we're bringing you the recipes, how-tos and decorating ideas to help you become a Turkey Day pro.

Laura Calder - Roasted Squash.

Photo by: Adrian Mueller ©2012, Adrian Mueller / AMueller.com, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Adrian Mueller, 2012, Adrian Mueller / AMueller.com, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve always been in it for the sides (and the pies ... but that's a topic for a different post). Turkey I can take or leave, but fall vegetables are among my favorites and there’s no better time to get a cornucopia of seasonal produce on your plate. Focusing on veggie (and fruit) sides has another important role. Nonstarchy/less starchy vegetables (like butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and green beans) tend to fill you up on fewer calories than starchy ones, like potatoes and sweet potatoes. One of my strategies for getting maximum flavor and enjoyment out of Thanksgiving without getting overly stuffed is to incorporate lots of nonstarchy vegetables into appetizers and side dishes and to take smaller portions of the starchy dishes (stuffing, I'm looking at you). If you want to try this strategy too, here are some good options to add to your Thanksgiving feast.

Veggie Starters

Rather than filling up right off the bat with nuts, crackers and cheese, start off with some nonstarchy vegetables. This acorn squash soup is a stunning starter that starts your meal off light. Alton Brown’s pumpkin soup is another good option.

Another way to go is with fresh crudites and a healthy dip. This cucumber and dill yogurt dip fits the bill. And this white bean dip gives you a healthy serving of fiber- and protein-rich beans to keep your appetite in check.

The Sides: Something Green

Green Beans with Blood Orange and Tangerine Dressing is a side dish you can feel good about. The bonus? It tastes great and is a lovely addition to the table.

Green beans with toasted almonds: It doesn’t get more simple than this. The classic pairing gets a light flavoring — a bit of olive oil and shallots — that keeps this dish down to 65 calories per serving. This rosemary-lemon green beans recipe is another great one to try.

Then there are Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale. Try this recipe. Just try it. With four vegetables — onions, mushrooms, green beans and kale — and flavoring from wine and a dusting of Parmesan, this dish manages to deliver a ton of flavor (and nutrition!) for a mere 108 calories per serving. Lots of fiber and some protein help to fill you up, too.

Dave Lieberman's Slow-Cooked Brussels Sprouts deliver 130 calories per serving, keeping these on the lighter side.

The Sides: Something Orange

One of my favorite rules for balancing out the Thanksgiving table is to choose either white potatoes or sweet potatoes and then swap out the one you skip for a nonstarchy analog. If you want a replacement for sweet potatoes, try a butternut or acorn squash dish.

Roasted squash is simple and easy to make, yet it scores high points for flavor with the addition of thyme and bay leaves.

Vanilla-Scented Sweet Potato Puree is a lighter but no less fully flavored alternative to sweet potato casserole.

Ellie Krieger’s Maple Squash Puree is easy to put together (it uses frozen butternut squash cubes) and is a less starchy, flavorful alternative to sweet potatoes.

The Sides: Stuffing

I know this doesn't fall into the vegetable or nonstarchy category of sides, but I thought I'd include it because there can be  big variations in stuffings. Bobby Deen’s Whole-Grain Apple Cranberry Stuffing is one of the healthiest out there. It uses whole-grain bread (check) and is loaded up with onions, celery and apples. For the finishing touch, it stays moist with chicken broth, rather than sticks of butter.

Kerri-Ann is a registered dietitian and nutrition coach who writes on food and health trends. Find more of her work at kerriannjennings.com or follow her on Twitter @kerriannrd or Facebook.

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