Soon enough, sweet autumnal fragrances will fill our homes as pumpkin pie chills on the counter or succulent, herb-filled turkey cooks in our ovens.

How often do we think about the nutrition in our Thanksgiving side dishes?

Thanksgiving isn’t just about filling our stomachs with food. It is also about gathering loved ones around a table, celebrating our thankful hearts for the people in our lives and our wonderfully functioning healthy bodies. We don’t have to sacrifice tradition and taste when we replace certain ingredients for more nutrient-dense ones.

According to the American Heart Association, cutting the amount of salt in half and replacing it with more spices and herbs for flavor supports a healthy blood pressure. Replacing saturated fats like butter for olive oil will also promote a healthy heart. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends switching refined processed grains for whole grains to boost dietary fiber.

Most importantly, adding a lot of seasonal vegetables is a great way to make your side dishes lighter and more nourishing.

Popular Thanksgiving sides often include squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.

First things first: Why should we eat our orange-colored vegetables?

1. Fiber

Pumpkin seeds pack about 1.7 grams of dietary fiber per ounce. Squash themselves have only 50 calories per cup, with 3 grams of fiber. The American Diabetes Association recommends fiber because it helps to prevent our blood sugar levels from spiking and crashing. Fiber also makes you stay full longer and helps with regularity.

2. Vitamin A

A cup of your favorite orange vegetables contains almost twice the amount of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. It is most popular for promoting good vision; however, it’s also essential for maintaining healthy skin, neurological function and more.

3. Potassium

Pumpkins are rich in potassium (even more than bananas), making them a great post-workout snack to help balance your electrolytes after a heavy sweat session.

Now that we know the amazing health benefits, here are a couple of lighter Thanksgiving side dishes everyone at your Thanksgiving table will love.

Hearty Quinoa Stuffing

Serves 10, preparation lasts 10 minutes, cooking time is 30 minutes


• 2 cups tri-color quinoa or variety of choice

• 4 cups vegetable broth

• 6 cups finely diced sweet potato or butternut squash

• 1 large shallot, diced

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 tablespoon dried thyme

• 1 tablespoon dried rosemary

• 2 teaspoons dried sage

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 teaspoon chili flakes, optional

• 1 teaspoon salt and pepper

• ½ cup chopped pecans

• 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

• Optional add-ins: ½ cup dried cranberries, 1 to 2 finely chopped apples


1. Add quinoa and broth to a large pot. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until all the broth has been absorbed. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and allow to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 F.

3. Toss your diced sweet potatoes (or squash), shallot and garlic into a large bowl. Add spices, salt and pepper, then drizzle with oil and toss to combine. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

4. Assemble stuffing by combining cooked quinoa, potatoes and pecans in a large mixing bowl. Stir together and add apple cider vinegar, rosemary and thyme. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Adapted from:

Cauliflower Mash

Serves six, cooking takes 30 minutes


• 1 large head cauliflower (about 2½ pounds), broken into florets

• 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

• 1/3 cup reduced-fat half-and-half cream

• 1 tablespoon of olive oil butter

• ½ teaspoon pepper

• Minced fresh parsley, optional


1. Place 1 inch of water and cauliflower in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, covered, 10 to 12 minutes or until soft. Drain.

2. Mash cauliflower to desired consistency. Stir in ½ cup cheese, cream, butter and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and, if desired, parsley.

Adapted from:

Rocha is a Bluffton University dietetic intern with the Ohio State University Extension of Hancock County.