Fill Your Thanksgiving Table With Nutritious Foods Your Family Will Love

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate traditions and try new foods. A registered dietitian nutritionist shares inspiration and recipes with a focus on nutritious side dishes, appetizers, even desserts!

In homes across metro Detroit, families and friends are preparing to gather and celebrate everyone’s favorite holiday of the year: Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a time for sharing gratitude and stories, welcoming new family members and celebrating traditions old and new. Parents and kids agree that the holiday comes just at the right time for a much-needed break.

But Thanksgiving, with its traditional menu of turkey, potatoes and stuffing, is also a great opportunity to try new foods and bring some extra nutrition to your table, too.

“Most families have a lot of people at their Thanksgiving table and the point of the holiday is to indulge, create a colorful table and make it special. But you can even use Thanksgiving as a time to over-indulge in vegetable side dishes,” says Sarah Woodside, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Director of Marketing and Communications with Milk Means More.

For a big boost of nutrition on your Thanksgiving table, add as many vegetable-filled side dishes as you can. “I love to have three, four or even five vegetable side dishes,” Woodside says. This is a time to try some new recipes and maybe even get your kids hooked and asking for more.

Veggies bring big value

Why is it so important to add an extra vegetable spin to Thanksgiving? “The key is that vegetables have vitamins and minerals, especially in the more colorful vegetables,” Woodside explains. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are a great source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin K, plus fiber and magnesium. And that orange color brings a great seasonal feel to the meal, too.

But don’t stop there. Butternut squash, beets, turnips, radishes, mushrooms — even leafy greens like kale, arugula and spinach — grow late into the season here in Michigan and are nutrient-dense and delicious.

Here, Woodside offers some simple tips for making your own Thanksgiving extra special with creative and inspiring vegetable-forward side dishes — and some recipes, too!

Delegate by the vegetable or fruit

When Grandpa asks what he can bring, don’t be shy. Be specific about what vegetables or fruits you’d like him to bring — and encourage his creativity! “Say ‘Here’s what else I’d like to have on the table’ and be specific,” Woodside suggests. “Guests like this because it makes it easier. I never mind being told what to bring.”

Assign this modern green bean casserole recipe to a guest you know will enjoy bearing a fresh take on the humble green bean. Everyone at the table will benefit from the fiber, protein and great taste of this particular dish!

Think colorful

“The seasonal vegetables available at Thanksgiving offer lots of different colors, from carrots to cranberries. Vegetables and fruits can bring all of this to your table,” Woodside says. Parsnips, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, apples are all fresh and available now.

“My experience with buying, say, strawberries this time of year is that they are not so great. They’ve traveled far to get to your store and they don’t taste as good,” Woodside says. “But when you find vegetables and fruits that are in season, they just taste better and are more cost-effective. They haven’t traveled so far to get to you.”

Want to dress up your carrots? Try these Moroccan roasted carrots with yogurt dressing for a change. Good thing this recipe is so simple because your kids may ask for this again and again!

Kid-friendly, all day

With a whole day — or potentially a whole weekend — of Thanksgiving festivities ahead, Woodside encourages us to think beyond the Thanksgiving meal itself. “If you’re going to or hosting an all-day event, think appetizers because there’s some nutritional opportunity there. Bring in the fruits!” she says.

A creamy lime dip of Greek yogurt, lime juice and lime zest served with an array of fresh fruits is very kid-friendly and works as an appetizer or even late in the day to freshen up leftovers. “This dip is one of my favorites and it’s easy to prepare, nutritious and great served with apples, oranges and pears,” Woodside says.

Keep it simple

Adults may love creamy scalloped potatoes and traditional green bean casserole, but for many, they are an acquired taste. “What I’ve learned with my own kids is they don’t like that kind of recipe at all, so what I do like to have is a simple vegetable, too,” Woodside says. “Plain green beans, plain corn, broccoli. Something simple they recognize outside of a casserole-type dish. They’re much more apt to eat it.”

Add a topping

Then, offer a creative topping to elevate that simple vegetable, Thanksgiving-style.

“Marshmallows on sweet potatoes are not my favorite, but kids love to add just a couple of mini marshmallows to bring some fun to their plain sweet potatoes,” Woodside says, also suggesting some butter for cooked green beans and cheddar cheese sprinkled on steamed broccoli.

Michigan cheeses and other dairy foods like sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt and buttermilk can add just the right flavor and additional nutrition to Thanksgiving favorites.

“Adding a little flavor from marshmallows or cheeses can really help kids to eat the vegetables and get that nutrition, which is the goal,” she says.

Adults can try this, too. “Steamed green beans tossed with a little parmesan cheese and toasted almonds really elevates a simple vegetable to the next level,” Woodside says.

Dessert can be nutritious, too!

What’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? It may not be everyone’s personal favorite, but pumpkin’s vitamin A and beta carotene mean pumpkin pie is a dessert that makes sense, nutritionally.

“I absolutely love pumpkin pie and my three kids give mixed reviews. One loves it, one will try a little bit, and the third doesn’t like it at all. But a big dollop of whipped cream on top always helps, I think. And that’s the fun part about Thanksgiving,” Woodside says.

The great thing about pumpkin pie is that there are so many variations, from traditional to praline, maple syrup-sweetened, five-spice and streusel-topped. It’s a very versatile dessert that can form a tradition for each family. Try these fun mini pumpkin almond cheesecakes this year. Kids love their tiny size and sweet, creamy flavor.

What about leftovers?

Thanksgiving leftovers are a boon for busy parents because it means there’s always something to eat in the fridge. And leftover basics like turkey, cranberry sauce, rolls and mashed potatoes come together nicely for hungry kids. “And, these foods keep very well,” Woodside adds.

If you’re looking to get more creative with leftovers, recreate your own childhood family traditions and even come up with some new takes.

Reheat those leftover sweet potatoes and green beans with a little garlic and olive oil. Or, add those sweet potatoes to pancakes, but make it easy — the genius who came up with sheet pan pancakes deserves a medal!

“Add milk and sour cream to mashed potatoes to make creamy potato pancakes,” says Woodside. Or give leftover roast potatoes a new life in a hash with some onions and peppers, topped with a fried egg. “That was always our tradition in my family growing up,” she adds.

Honestly, it’s worth making a double batch of baked sweet potatoes when you can turn the leftovers into something as luscious as twice-baked sweet potato with chili oat topping.

Pro tip: Don’t limit this dish to just dinner. The crunchy oats, cream cheese and cinnamon make these sweet potatoes a great brunch treat, too.

Content sponsored by Milk Means More. Get inspired with recipes, nutrition information and more at

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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