There are so many great Thanksgiving side dishes that we have enjoyed throughout the years at large holiday gatherings. This year, at our smaller, more intimate celebration (with those we have been hunkered down since March!), with only one primary cook – YOU, we need to select those side dishes that best match your family’s tastes, your cooking skills, and your stress parameters! One family’s treasured Green Bean Casserole is another family’s Sweet Potato & Marshmallow Casserole. My family doesn’t do either of these! I bypass the stand-alone vegetable dishes and opt for roasted vegetables cooked on the same sheet pan as the potatoes. It’s easier, healthier (utilizing fresh), and looks impressive. You need to decide for yourself what sides are going on your table, here are more options…
Sweet potatoes have become quite popular among weight watchers and healthy lifestylers. They are recognized as a superfood because they are so darn good for you. However, the health advantages are thrown out the window at many Thanksgiving tables when the sweet potatoes are served as a sticky, sweet casserole. While it doesn’t take much effort to prepare, and it is a very festive holiday treat, this is a totally optional side dish. Why not consider retaining the fresh sweet potato’s nutritional integrity by roasting it on a sheet pan with your regular potatoes and other veggies? These orange nuggets will offer a natural sweetness, which complements the other more savory components.
Option 1: Mostly Homecooked Canned Sweet Potatoes or Yams (Stress rating: 3, Impress Quotient : 7)
Advantages: Utilizing the convenience of canned sweet potatoes or yams, mix with brown sugar, cinnamon and butter in a baking dish and pop in the oven a half-hour before dinner. Kick it up a notch by adding a top layer of marshmallows. More dessert than veggie, this is a fun and easy side dish.
Downside: It’s very sweet and sticky. Make sure the marshmallow topping is cooled so little ones don’t burn their mouths. My experience is that it looks great on the table, but not much is eaten.
Option 2) Baked Fresh Sweet Potatoes (Stress rating: 2; Impress Quotient 7)
Advantages: You can roast sweet potatoes by themselves or, my preference, with a variety of root and other veggies. After a quick prep (peeled and seasoned, tossed with oil), lay them flat in a sheet pan in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes. Great alone, even better with other veggies, this makes for a simple, elegant, healthy, and delicious holiday dish.
Downsides: Sweet potatoes should be prepped by peeling. This does add a step, and depending on your peeling skills can be a stress point (this would be an excellent job for a helper – kid, mate, sibling). TIP: Peel sweet potatoes in advance. The day before is my suggestion. Store the peeled sweet potatoes in a plastic bag with a little olive or canola oil to coat them and keep them from drying out. (In the same ziplock bag you can store your other advanced prepped roasting veggies)
If you choose to do roasted potatoes and veggies, you will have checked off two foundation menu items (potatoes and vegetables)! No need to read this section any further. How’s that for reducing stress? However, if roasted veggies are not your thing or if you want to add something green to brighten up your table or palette, green beans are a traditional favorite. My family prefers broccoli. Both offer delicious and easy ways to make it on your table. You’re probably assuming that I’m talking about using fresh vegetables. This may surprise you, but I’m not.
Fresh veggies only appear to be more healthy. In reality, can or frozen vegetables have a higher vitamin count because they are processed immediately after harvest. Fresh vegetables in your store or market quickly lose their nutritional value during shipping and storage. Additionally, veggies in the store or market are handled by many people (hands? YUCK!). If you still opt for fresh, take all the necessary precautions in thoroughly cleaning before eating.
Using fresh green veggies requires time, prep causing unnecessary stress, so I’m not including them as an option this year. My purpose is to reduce stress. Canned or frozen veggies are goof-proof to prepare! Basically, you are heating them. I prefer the microwave because I can prepare and serve in the same dish. As a side dish, either green beans or broccoli is acceptable to plate without any zhoosh. IF you want a little zhoosh, there are easy low-stress ways to dress up green beans or broccoli. For the traditionalists, if it’s not Thanksgiving without green bean casserole, I have you covered there too – it’s not complicated. Full disclosure: I wasn’t raised with green bean casserole and don’t care for it. I prefer green beans with pine nuts or almond slivers. Broccoli, fresh or frozen, served plain or with a quickie butter lemon sauce, always looks good on the table.
Option 1: No frills Green Beans – Canned or Frozen or No frills Broccoli – Frozen (Stress rating: 1, Impress: 2)
Advantages: Next to no stress is a huge benefit! Although not very impressive, if you are determined to have green on the table, this is as easy as it gets. Open, nuke, serve. Looks good, tastes good.
Downside: Served plain, this is nothing special or holiday-ish.
Option 2: Mostly Home-Cooked Green Beans (Stress rating 4, Impress Quotient : 8)
Advantages: There are several easy ways to zhoosh up canned or frozen green beans. Adding toasted slivered or halved almonds, pine nuts, or halved grape tomatoes with a lemon butter sauce takes beans from zero to sixty in a matter of minutes. NOTE: Toasting the nuts and halving the tomatoes is not required; it’s just a really classy touch!
Downsides: It’s easy to complicate simplicity with extra touches. While green veggies add to the impress quotient, they also add additional steps and increase the stress rating. These extra steps include toasting the almond slivers or pine nut and slicing the tomatoes. TIP: To keep stress rating under control, toast the nuts in advance and keep in a plastic zip bag at room temp – just don’t snack on them! Easier said than done, trust me.)
Option 3) Mostly Home-Cooked Green Bean Casserole (Stress rating: 3, Impress Quotient : 8)
Advantages: Just like Grandma used to make! (Well, not my Grandma – as I mentioned, I don’t serve this). Traditional Green Bean Casserole is a can of soup, a little milk, and seasoning mixed with canned green beans, topped with crunchy french fried onions, and baked. No chopping or prepping.
Downside: If your family wants this, then it’s worth the minimal effort—however, if no one is going to eat it, save the space in your oven and cross it off your menu.
Option 4) Mostly Home-Cooked Broccoli (Stress rating: 3, Impress Quotient : 7)
Advantages: The few minutes it takes to mix up some melted butter and lemon juice is well worth the effort. Frozen chopped or spears are both a good choice. The lemon kicks up the flavor of the broccoli.
Downside: It takes a few minutes to whip up the lemon butter sauce. (Suggestion: make the sauce while nuking the broccoli)