A holiday meal is a true marathon, with one mouthwatering dish after the next — and you won’t want to miss a single one. This year, avoid the mistake of overexerting yourself in the earlier rounds so that you’re out of the running by the time that luscious fruit pie or chocolate cake hits the table. Pacing yourself and watching your portions are solid tactics for avoiding the notorious “food baby.” Another foolproof way to avoid going overboard at dinner is to rein in the sides. Classic dishes like full-fat creamed spinach and potatoes gratin are nice for the first few forkfuls, but they will leave you feeling too full — or worse, too ill — to enjoy the final round. Here are some lighter options that won’t spoil your appetite for dessert, but are by no means lacking in flavor.
Ham and Vegetable Gratin (pictured above)
Skip oily, monochromatic potato gratin this year and surprise your guests with Food Network Kitchen’s hearty alternative, loaded with carrots, peas, potatoes and juicy ham. If you’re planning on serving ham as the main course, even better. Simply reserve a few slices to chop and mix into this side dish.
Lemon Pepper Mushrooms
Fresh lemon zest, snipped chives and cracked black pepper are all you need to enhance tender button mushrooms for your holiday meal — and for merely 58 calories per serving. When shopping for the mushrooms, stick to pre-sliced. You’ll save yourself a ton of time when you eliminate tedious knife work from your to-do list.
Kale and Cauliflower Casserole
Showcase in-season produce with a colorful medley of slow-cooked kale, tender cauliflower and mashed red potatoes. No need to overshadow the vegetables with a heavy cream sauce or breadcrumbs: Just a touch of Parmesan and sour cream will lend the casserole a celebratory feel.
Vegan Saffron Risotto
Food Network Kitchen’s creamy, saffron-hued risotto is a special-occasion dish for vegans, vegetarians and even meat eaters. Ingredients high in umami, like tomato paste, soy sauce and canned tomatoes, add depth; nutritional yeast adds a bit of a cheesy taste.
Roasted Celery Root and Carrots
This seasonal mix of hearty root vegetables will fit seamlessly into any holiday menu, whether you’re serving rack of lamb, prime rib or juicy spiral-cut ham. Use just a touch of paprika to add heat and complexity.
Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Vinaigrette
Once again, lemon proves you don’t need a heavy cream sauce or handfuls of grated cheese to flavor vegetables. Melissa d’Arabian tops juicy roasted asparagus with a few spoonfuls of her bright and tangy lemon vinaigrette. The end result? A versatile side dish that’s just 112 calories per serving.
Healthy Creamed Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts
But of course there are ways to do cream sauce without pushing your meal into obscenely decadent territory. Food Network Kitchen’s reduced-fat cream sauce, pleasantly spiced with nutmeg, does wonders for earthy Swiss chard and red onion. Top the dish with a few toasted pine nuts for a satisfying crunch.
Whole Grain Biscuits
If you go the creamed vegetable route, you’ll need something to mop up the delectable sauce. Food Network Kitchen’s healthy whole-grain option is a great alternative to the refined flour biscuits that all too commonly fill our breadbaskets. Salt and pepper bring out the hearty richness of whole wheat in these biscuits, which have just 1 gram of sugar per serving.
For more celebratory sides, check out these holiday recipes from our friends:
Devour: 6 Types of Bread to Complement Your Holiday Dinner
The Lemon Bowl: Roasted Acorn Squash with Tahini Sauce
The Fed Up Foodie: Creamy Dreamy Scallop Potatoes
The Mom 100: Spoonbread Corn Pudding
A Mind “Full” Mom: Roasted Radicchio Wedge Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
Taste with the Eyes: Holiday Entertaining: Asparagus, Hollandaise, Caviar
Dishin and Dishes: Roasted Cinnamon Vanilla Almonds
FN Dish: The Quickest, Easiest Sides for Your Holiday Table