Thanksgiving Side Dishes: Healthy and Flavorful Salads

If big family dinners—and the food that comes with them—is your thing, Thanksgiving gives you the opportunity to indulge in some of the best. From turkey to sweet potatoes to green bean casserole to pumpkin pie, the food choices are comfort food heaven.

Tossing a Salad at But those dishes, while divine, may not provide the nutritional punch you’re looking for. This year, why not consider adding a wide selection of salads to your Thanksgiving side dishes? Increasingly, salads are taking a place of prominence at many family feast tables as they provide a lighter, more nutritious way to satisfy your hunger, and are usually easy to make and offer endless options.

Health benefits of salads

Salads contain innumerable health benefits, including:

  • Fiber: Salads contain lots of fiber, which helps lower your cholesterol and improve your digestive health. Plus, fiber helps you feel “full” and, therefore, eat less.
  • Fruits and veggies: Obviously, salads are great way to get your daily dose of vegetables, but salads can also be “fruit-licious.” Lettuce by itself is relatively bland, even with a nice mixed greens blend, but it’s easy to spruce it up with some mandarin oranges, cubed apples, grapes, dried cranberries—the options are many!
  • Smart fats: Salads are an excellent source of certain fats, especially the monounsaturated version, that can be healthy. Olive oil, avocados, and nuts all contain high levels of that type of fat and they make great additions to salads.
  • Vitamins: Leafy greens are a great nutritional source, however, don’t limit your salad to iceberg lettuce—not when popular alternatives like spinach, romaine, radicchio, arugula, and watercress all provide significant health benefits such as improved eyesight, heart healthy nutrients, and diabetes prevention.
  • Avoid the “extras”: Dressings, croutons, bacon, and other add-ons can certainly enhance your salad, but use them sparingly and focus on your favorite fruits and vegetables instead.

Salad diversity

CHEFS Tuscan Mixing Bowl Set at Yummy cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes may be traditional toppings, but don’t be afraid to try different vegetables in your salads. How about green beans and/or sun-dried cherries? There are few unhealthy options when it comes to fruits and vegetables.

Aside from its health benefits, salad is also a chef’s delight. Because of the diversity of ingredients and flavors, you can use salad as a meal, to enhance any meal, or as a snack. Salads also require relatively little time to make and use few kitchen implements. Really all you need is a bowl, a peeler, and some knives.

With salad as a part of your meal, it’s time to let your imagination run wild. With the proliferation of salads at high-end restaurants in recent years, there have been thousands of imaginative twists put on this classic dish. There are also dozens of new, low-calorie vinaigrettes available on grocery store shelves. And with salad’s ability to take on any flavor, you can use pretty much any type of protein in your mix.

Feeling nontraditional?

Why not try some of these “outside-the-norm” salad ingredients that have become popular in recent years?

  • Lentils. Although ancient, these legumes have only recently gained widespread use on American dining tables.
  • Pine nuts. This small, edible seed of the pine tree is full of vitamins and nutrients. By sprinkling a few on your salad, you can give it a mild sweetness.
  • Cheeses. Not long ago, the only cheese found on most salads was some form of cheddar or bleu. But that’s changed. Ricotta, goat, parmesan, gorgonzola, and asiago are just some of the many cheeses now commonly found on salads

There are few meal or snack options that are more healthy, diverse, and filling than a well-prepared salad. So let yourself graze.

Some intriguing salad recipes

Need a little help choosing unique salad side dishes? Our Recipe Database can help!

Winter Salad with Roquefort and Pears

Crisp textures and full flavors make this a salad that can stand up to rich dishes, roast meats, and poultry.

Print Winter Salad with Roquefort and Pears recipe at Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup walnut oil
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort or other blue cheese
  • leaves from 2 small heads Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 ripe but firm pears, such as Bosc or Red Crimson, halved, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed, and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Cooking Instructions

In the bottom of a large salad bowl, stir the red wine vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper together. Gradually whisk in the walnut oil. Add the cheese and stir to combine.

Add the lettuce, pears, red onion, and bell pepper to the bowl. Just before serving, toss gently to coat with the dressing. Sprinkle with the nuts and serve. Serves 8.

Donata Maggipinto, Everyday Celebrations, Chronicle Books, 2005.

Autumn Green Salad with Persimmons and Honey Walnuts

Indulge your senses with the sweet, savory and tangy taste of grapefruit, pomegranate and balsamic vinegar.

Print Autumn Green Salad with Persimmons and Honey Walnuts recipe at Ingredients


  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  • 1 small bunch green leaf lettuce, torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 large bunch watercress, stems removed
  • 6 ounces mixed baby greens
  • 2 medium persimmons, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced

Honey Walnuts

  • 3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cooking Instructions

In a small, heavy saucepan, boil orange juice and orange peel over medium high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in vegetable oil, walnut oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and cinnamon.

To make the honey walnuts:In a small fry pan over medium heat, sauté walnuts until hot, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Drizzle with honey, quickly stir, and remove from heat. Sprinkle with salt. Transfer nuts to a plate to cool.

Place all greens in a large salad bowl and toss together. Add dressing. Toss to coat. Divide salad among 8 to 10 plates. Top with persimmon slices. Sprinkle salad with walnuts. Serves 8 to 10.

Turkey Waldorf Salad

This one could also be a great salad to make from your leftovers!

Print Turkey Waldorf Salad recipe at Ingredients

  • 2 cups celery, sliced
  • 2 cups unpeeled apples, diced
  • 2 cups cooked turkey, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onions or scallions, sliced
  • 2 cups cooked small shell pasta
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cooking Instructions

In a large bowl mix plain yogurt, mayonnaise, cider vinegar, sugar, and ground black pepper. Blend all these ingredients together.

In the same bowl combine cooked pasta, walnuts, diced turkey, celery, and apples. Gently fold together to coat thoroughly with dressing.

Prickly Pear Fruit Salad

A very adaptive salad. Any seasonal fruits can be used with the prickly pear fruit.

Print Prickly Pear Fruit Salad recipe at Ingredients

  • 8 prickly pear cactus fruit
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1 bunch fresh red seedless grapes
  • 1 small can Mandarin oranges (reserve the liquid)
  • Clover honey (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional) or
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Cooking Instructions

Wash and drain all fruit.

Peel the prickly pear cactus fruit and cut into bite size pieces.

Hull and slice the strawberries.

Drain juice from the mandarin oranges and set aside for use in the dressing.

In a medium bowl, combine all fruit.

In a small bowl, whisk the reserved Mandarin orange juice, honey, cinnamon or cloves (if desired).

Drizzle over fruit and toss together. Serve immediately.

Sweet Sour Watermelon and Cucumber Salad

Print Sweet Sour Watermelon and Cucumber Salad recipe at Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar to taste
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • dash salt and pepper to taste
  • bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
  • 3 cups seedless watermelon balls or small chunks
  • 2 English cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced into small slices

Cooking Instructions

Mix together the vinegar, water, sugar (adjusting as desired), and poppy seeds in a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the chopped scallions.

Place the watermelon and cucumber in a serving bowl and pour the marinade over the top. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate a couple of hours before serving. Toss gently before serving.

© National Watermelon Promotion Board, used by permission.

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