By Mackenzie Schieck

Lighten up!

Want to make your Thanksgiving sides a bit lighter without easing up on taste? From using plant-based options, to scaling back a bit on heavier ingredients, these tips for adjusting Thanksgiving side dishes are easy to incorporate into most recipes.

Related: See our collection of healthy Thanksgiving side dish recipes.

1. Use Plant-Based Butter Instead of Dairy Butter

As with cheeses and milks, the flavor and quality of plant-based butters has made a huge jump recently and you likely won't notice any difference when you make the swap in your Thanksgiving side dish recipe. As with milks, you can substitute plant-based butters with the same amount the recipe calls for of dairy butter. Try using dairy-free Country Crock Plant Butter in this Thanksgiving side recipe:

Lemon-Parsley Green Beans

The secret to preserving the bright green color of fresh green beans in this recipe is to boil them briefly, then plunge them immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. "The green beans were a perfect complement to Thanksgiving dinner," says home cook Nancy.

Photo by Happyschmoopies

2. Use Plant-Based Milk Instead of Dairy Milk

With so many options to choose from: rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk, and more, plant-based milk is one of the easiest swaps to make. Substitute equal amounts when cooking, and simply choose which type of milk you prefer. For the most part, none are better than the others, though just keep in mind that some do have thicker consistencies (e.g. hemp and oat tend to be thick, while almond and rice tend to be on the thinner side). You can find plant-based milks in your grocery store in the dairy case on the shelf-stable versions in the regular aisles. Try using a plant-based milk in this popular side dish:

Yellow Squash Casserole

"I made this for Thanksgiving last year and everyone loved it!" raves home cook shero987. "It was even rated the best dish of the meal by some! That's pretty amazing for a squash dish! Thanks for the recipe!"

VIDEO: Yellow Squash Casserole

3. Reduce or Change the Cheese

You can usually cut the amount of cheese by one-third without noticing too much of a difference, or maybe even by half with cheese-heavy recipes. You could substitute a low-fat cheese for regular cheese, too. There are also various plant-based cheeses available at the grocery store. Experiment with different brands to see which ones you prefer. This recipe uses low-fat ricotta cheese:

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Ricotta Cheese

Baked sweet potatoes get scooped out and rebaked with a sweet and savory mixture with a touch of ricotta and Parmesan cheese. "I made these for Thanksgiving and a few times since then. They are a nice change from the traditional sweet potato casserole," says home cook AGGIESHAN.

Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

4. Reduce the Amount of Sugar

Cutting down the sugar called for in a recipe is a simple way to make it lighter. Just like with cheese, reducing by one-third is a safe amount that can really make a difference in calories, while not making a huge difference in taste. You might also consider substituting sugar with healthier sugar alternatives like honey or agave. These top-rated cornbread muffins are sweetened with agave syrup:

Vegan Agave Cornbread Muffins

"Wow! So easy and delicious!" says ANGIE416.." I've made this recipe 4 times already since finding it last week. I make it exactly as written, and the muffins are perfect every time. Thank you!"

VIDEO: Vegan Agave Cornbread Muffins

5. Add More Vegetables

If you're tired of having to take stuff out, why not add some stuff in instead?! Depending on what the dish is, throw a little extra spinach, zucchini, kale, etc. in there. By adding vegetables, you're increasing the amount of good stuff in each dish, making for lighter bites. This Thanksgiving side dish is loaded with kale:

Balsamic Butternut Squash with Kale

Recipe creator Danielle Walquish Lynch says, "This is a great side dish for the holidays, with the added benefit of kale! Surprisingly tasty. Serve hot or cold." Reviewers agree! Horseshoe Creek Farm says, "I doubled the recipe to take to a potluck dinner party. It was a hit. I will definitely make again."

Photo by Mackenzie Schieck

More to Explore

14 Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes to Delight Every Guest
15 Vegan Thanksgiving Sides Non-Vegans Will Steal Off Your Plate

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