When it comes to a perfect Thanksgiving feast it’s all about the side dishes. From traditional and comforting to light and healthy, here you’ll find a collection of the BEST Thanksgiving Side Dishes, appetizers, cocktails, and desserts, plus tips and tricks to guarantee an amazing Thanksgiving feast this year…and years to come.
If you grew up celebrating Thanksgiving, chances are, a handful of beloved side dishes always showed up at your holiday table.
You know, the “reliables”. The classics.
For my family, this consisted of mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, buttered corn, stuffing, and dinner rolls. The mashed potatoes were more butter and sour cream than actual potatoes, the green bean casserole and corn came from a can, stuffing from a box, and the dinner rolls came in a package of twelve.
Delicious, predictable, and classic, as a small child I had assumed that this was what all families ate for Thanksgiving.
Fortunately, I later learned that this wasn’t the case.
After discovering this whole new world of delicious holiday side dishes, I decided it was time to cook (and try) them all – not exaggerating at all here (wink wink).
Here is my collection of classic side dishes, healthier alternatives, personal creations, and everything in between.
What is Considered a Side Dish?
A side dish is sometimes referred to as a side order, or simply a side. It is a food or recipe that accompanies the main course or entreé.
In the case of Thanksgiving, the main course is typically a big fat turkey. Christmas, on the other hand, you’ll see a greater variety of entreés including ham, prime rib or roast beef tenderloin, salmon, and, of course, the traditional turkey dinner.
In any case, side dishes complement the flavors of your main course while also providing variety in flavor and texture to the meal as a whole. Because let’s be honest, who would get super excited about a few slices of plain turkey on their plate?
How Many Sides Should I Really Make?
Make extra is the best answer I have for this question.
The reason is that side dishes are the overwhelming favorite and allows guests to have a variety of different options to choose from.
As a general guideline aim for the following,
- Veggie Dishes (pick 2)
- Mashed Potatoes
- Other – gravy and cranberry sauce
If you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner for a large group of more than 8-10 people, I recommend doubling the salad and stuffing and adding an extra veggie dish.
Most Popular Thanksgiving Side Dishes
The most popular Thanksgiving side dishes vary greatly based on where you live and from one family to another. However, there is one side dish that makes its way onto most Thanksgiving tables and that is mashed potatoes. Potatoes are inexpensive, loved by all ages, and easy to prepare (and transport!)
Top 8 Thanksgiving sides:
- Mashed Potatoes
- Stuffing (aka dressing)
- Macaroni and Cheese (easily make this in your Instant Pot to save space in your oven)
- Cranberry Sauce
- Green Bean Casserole
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- Brussels Sprouts
Tips + Tricks to Keep Side Dishes Warm and Fresh
There’s no doubt that keeping everything warm and fresh may be the most challenging part of the whole Thanksgiving feast. Try these simple steps to keep things moving in the kitchen and the food warm:
- If you have one available, cook one dish in your Instant Pot and one dish in your Slow Cooker. These awesome kitchen gadgets are useful all the time but are awesome when you need to feed a lot of people. If you don’t own your own Instant Pot or Slow Cooker, ask a friend or relative if you could borrow one of theirs.
- Transfer gravy and sauces to a thermos. The thermos, not large enough to hold a big pot of soup, is the perfect size to store additional gravy that doesn’t fit in your gravy boat.
- Keep hot food stored in the microwave or cooler (minus the ice).
- Utilize your toaster oven. They may be smaller than a larger oven, but just as mighty and perfect for storing mashed potatoes or roasted veggies.
- Finally, whip out those electric blankets and crank up the heat. Simply cover each casserole dish with foil and nestle in your folded blankets.
Helpful Kitchen Tools and equipment
When it comes to cooking, there are a handful of tools and cooking equipment that are actually really quite helpful. Do you need everything listed below? No. But, they come highly recommended.
- Microplane grater – This handy little kitchen tool is used for two primary jobs in my kitchen, but they’re tedious jobs that I would probably otherwise skip – citrus zesting and grating ginger. You guys, these tasks are tiresome, I know. Bit the Microplane makes it SO easy.
- Garlic press – I mean, does anyone actually enjoy mincing garlic…by hand? I don’t. The garlic press does it for you.
- Instant Pot – Helpful for busy weeknights and weekends and to cook tough meats, beans, and lentils that would otherwise take forever. The Instant Pot isn’t something I use daily, but it is something I use often. It is also amazing for the holidays since it takes up so little space on the countertop and won’t take up valuable real estate in the oven or on the stovetop.
- Slow Cooker – Similar to the Instant Pot in space-saving we have the slow cooker. For holiday meal planning the slow cooker does require a bit more planning ahead, but it’s fantastic for dump, and walk away type recipes.
- Mandoline Slicer – You know all those thinly sliced potatoes in scalloped potatoes? Unless you’re super good with a knife and have no fear of losing a finger, use a mandoline slicer. Speaking of losing a finger, though, DO NOT skip the handguard. Trust me, I learned from experience.
- Dutch Oven – I love love love my Lodge 7.5 quart Dutch Oven. Great for soups, stews, roasting chicken, cooking mashed potatoes, etc.
- Digital Meat Thermometer – Although I don’t have a turkey recipe on this site, I’m leaving this kitchen must-have here anyway because it really is a must-have.
- Serving Spoons – I know, this seems like a total no-brainer, but if I’m being entirely honest, I wouldn’t have enough serving spoons to host a full Thanksgiving dinner at my house with more than 12 people. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have enough serving plates either…
Start with Appetizers
I know, this is a post for Thanksgiving side dishes, BUT everyone loves a good appetizer…or two.
Appetizers range from light, simple, or pre-made to full-blown cheese and charcuterie spreads that span entire tables. Grapes, cheese, crackers, and dip are my go-to whenever I’m hosting and I need to get something out with as little effort as possible.
See below for a few of my other favorite appetizers and snacks.
Thanksgiving Salads and Slaws
I didn’t grow up with a salad on my Thanksgiving table. Far too healthy for my mid-western born and raised parents. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one on your table (only if you want one, of course).
Aside from the stuffing, salads are typically my favorite part of the entire meal. Fresh and crunchy, they are a welcome alternative in flavor and texture to all the other, much heavier, Thanksgiving sides.
The only problem with salads is that leftovers can be somewhat tricky – especially if your green of choice is baby spinach.
Shredded Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage, unlike other more delicate greens (like spinach), hold up much better against heavy dressing. To combat this, always wait to add dressing or vinaigrette until just before serving.
Even better, if you’re preparing a large salad, only toss half of the salad with half of the dressing or vinaigrette. If guests eat up the first half, toss together the second half. If not, you’ll have fresh leftovers for the next days.
Delicious Thanksgiving Soup Recipes
Just like salad, we never had soup on our Thanksgiving or Christmas table. I mean, soup? Who wants soup on Thanksgiving?
You guys, I want soup!
And depending on where you live, maybe you want soup, too.
Why is soup such a fantastic Thanksgiving side dish?
- You can easily make it ahead of time, refrigerate, and reheat. Instead of making it the day of Thanksgiving, make it the day before and reheat.
- Soup is great for guests with dietary restrictions. We all have at least one or more family members that are vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, keto, or all of the above. Good soup will make everyone happy.
- Leftovers are always good. You know, just in case.
Thanksgiving Potato Recipes
I grew up eating my dad’s classic, buttery, homemade mashed potatoes loaded with milk, sour cream, and tons of salt. They were (and still are) amazing. And, until I started making my own, the only mashed potatoes I really, truly liked.
Here are some helpful tips before making your own beautiful potato creations:
- Best potatoes for mashing – Choose a higher starch potato such as Russet, Red Potatoes, and Yukon Gold. These potatoes result in the fluffiest, smoothest, and overall best-tasting mashed potatoes. Russet potatoes have thicker, tougher skin compared to Yukon gold. I always peel my potatoes when I’m making mashed potatoes, but especially so if I’m using Russet potatoes.
- Best potatoes for roasting – The best potatoes for roasting, boiling, gratins, and casseroles are waxy potatoes. This includes Yukon Gold, Baby Potatoes (aka New Potatoes), Red Bliss, and fingerlings.
- Best all-purpose potato – Yukon Gold potatoes, directly in the middle of the starch-to-waxy spectrum, are the ideal multi-purpose potato perfect for mashing, frying, and definitely roasting.
More helpful information about potatoes:
Sweet potatoes on the other hand, well, I didn’t even have my first taste of these sweet spuds until I was in my twenties. An instant favorite, I have never struggled to enjoy sweet potatoes.
Did you know sweet potatoes aren’t actually part of the potato family? They’re actually considered a root vegetable. I know. CRAZY.
Sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy. One cup provides half of your daily vitamin C and 400% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. They’re also high in fiber which is never a bad thing.
Veggie Side Dishes
Even the pickiest of eaters will gobble up these delicious vegetable side dishes. Ranging from super healthy to creamy, gooey and cheesy, all vegetables are good vegetables.
- TIP – If you’re hosting Thanksgiving for a large crowd with mixed tastes, I recommend making at least one veggie side dish that isn’t covered in cheese and cream. Roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, and asparagus are crowd favorites, each easy and delicious to prepare in bulk.
Grains and Pasta
Rice dishes and mac and cheese may not have been on my Thanksgiving table growing up, but they’ve started finding their way there over the years more and more. I know, many of these dishes are far from the classic Thanksgiving sides we’re familiar with (except for maybe the mac and cheese), but just for fun, give them a try.
The stuffed acorn squash, butternut squash risotto, and butternut squash lasagna are my personal favorites.
Healthier Alternatives to Classic Favorites
A few of your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes made health(ier). Don’t worry, flavor abounds in these phenomenal sides- you’ll never miss the canned soup filled classics.
Lighten up your favorite dishes with these easy tips:
- If a recipe calls for whipping cream use half&half (or fat-free half&half), whole milk, or 2% instead.
- Swap sour cream for fat-free Greek yogurt.
- Do you really need the marshmallows on those sweet potatoes?
- Put back the canned cream of mushroom or canned cream of chicken soup. There is nothing good for you in those jiggly chemical creations.
Cocktails and Desserts
I know, I know, definitely not your classic Thanksgiving side dish, BUT I do know that each of these things are always on my Thanksgiving table. As such, I couldn’t finish this round-up without sharing a few of my favorite cocktail and dessert recipes with you. Thanksgiving is a celebration, after all…right?