7 Worst Thanksgiving Side Dishes

By:    Published: October 12, 2012

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Though people anxiously await every year's delicious Thanksgiving dinner, it's quite normal to also worry about packing on the pounds during the holiday season. Thanksgiving certainly comes with its temptations as far as food goes, but the good news is that you can help prevent weight gain from this festive affair by learning which foods to avoid. This article details some of the unhealthiest Thanksgiving side dishes while also providing some helpful tips about how to enjoy the holiday while still eating right.

1. Root Vegetable Dishes

Just about all varieties of root veggies are popular on Thanksgiving, and that's not entirely a bad thing. On their own, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips and other root vegetables are very nutritious. However, they tend to be mixed with a lot of unhealthy ingredients in many popular Thanksgiving dishes. For instance, a sweet potato casserole can easily have about 500 calories per serving, which is 400 calories more than a serving of roasted sweet potato. The same thing happens when things like sour cream, cheese, bacon, gravy and other items are added into mashed potatoes.

2. Gravy

Many people use the drippings from their cooked meats to make gravy. Unfortunately, this makes the resulting sauce high in fat and low in nutritious content. Another big problem with gravy is the fact that it is often used as a sauce for several different parts of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, including the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. This overuse of an already unhealthy side results in the intake of a lot of unnecessary calories.

3. Stuffing

Unfortunately, many recipes for stuffing include too much of the types of ingredients which aren't so healthy for you. Among the repeat offenders in this side dish category are sausage, bacon, white bread, butter and gravy. Considering it is a staple meal for most Thanksgiving dinners, it's important for find a way to incorporate this side dish without adding on the extra pounds. See the section below for tips.

4. Creamy Soups

A nice hot bowl of soup is an excellent addition to a Thanksgiving meal, especially if you live in a colder climate. However, many of the creamier soups contain a lot of sodium and calories. Certain ingredients like meats, cream and cheese make them unhealthier. One of the common pitfalls is using canned soup bases for this side dish - most canned cream of mushroom, cream of chicken or cream of anything soups have a significant amount of sodium.

5. Cranberry Sauce

Though cranberries are great for your health, cranberry sauce contains so much sugar and additives that the bad outweighs the good. Pre-made cranberry sauces also tend to contain preservatives and extra calories.

6. Dinner Rolls

A warm roll is both comforting and delicious, but often this side dish isn't so healthy for you since the sugars and grains are highly processed in most recipes and pre-made rolls. Most people add on a generous amount of butter, which increases the fat and calorie content. In addition, many individuals like to take more than one roll even though they should not take more than one if they are trying to watch their weight.

7. Macaroni and Cheese

Though not as common as mashed potatoes or stuffing, this is still a common side dish at many Thanksgiving dinners, especially when a kid-friendly dish is needed for the little ones. Sadly, this cheese-heavy dish is high in calories and fat to begin with, and add-ons like sausage or bacon just make the fat content even higher.

Tips for Making Healthier Sides

Not all Thanksgiving side dishes are good for you - in fact, many of them aren't. The good news is that there are a few easy tweaks you can make in your recipes to create healthier side dishes that are still delicious and flavorful. Here are a few of the top tips for making healthier Thanksgiving side dishes:

  • As mentioned above, root vegetable dishes can go from nutritious to unhealthy with the addition of only a few ingredients. The key here is to keep things simple - roast, grill or mash your root veggies then use simple herbs and spices to punch up the flavor rather than relying on unhealthy add-ins.
  • Remove a significant portion of the fat from your gravy by freezing your drippings beforehand. The fat will float to the top during this process so you can easily scoop it out and throw it away before continuing with the gravy recipe. Additionally, make sure you limit your gravy to a small portion rather than drenching everything on your plate with it. Consider putting a small amount of it off to the side and dipping foods in as you eat.
  • For stuffing, concentrate on including healthy ingredients, especially vegetables and fresh herbs. Some recipes also include apples or cranberries, both of which are nutrient-rich. Finally, substitute any white bread for whole-grain bread to get plenty of fiber in your stuffing and to cut the calories.
  • Creamy soups are much healthier when made from scratch instead of using canned bases. Even better, make a broth soup with lots of vegetables and you'll get fewer calories, less sodium and more nutrients.
  • Look for dinner rolls made from whole grains instead of processed sugars. Also, limit the amount of butter you add on to them to cut down on calories and fat.
  • Mac and cheese can be pretty healthy as long as you stick to low-fat milk and low-fat cheese in your recipe. In fact, you can make it even more nutritious by adding in veggies instead of meat or more cheese.

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