6 Supermarket Shortcuts to Make Holiday Side Dishes Easier (and Healthier!)

You'll save time and energy, but your guests will never guess you skipped a few steps.

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Preparing for a holiday dinner can be a struggle. You're often low on time, and there is always a laundry list of tasks to complete before the party even begins. It's even harder if you're hosting the gathering and cooking for the entire crowd.

Beyond the main dishes and traditional desserts, holiday dinners are all about the sides. The sides complement the roast, turkey, or ham and let you work in seasonal flavors and speciality items — Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, sweet potato with marshmallows, and more. Indeed, holiday side dishes are often the recipes people look forward to the most each year.

In short, the sides need your attention, and your time — a thing you have in short supply.

shortcut holiday sides
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However, you can cut back on energy spent in the kitchen by picking up a few grocery store staples that work as side dishes or can make for a handy shortcut in those must-make recipes. And all of these are dietitian approved, so they're healthy but still complement a variety of classic holiday comfort foods and recipes.

Here, see which shortcut sides and staple ingredients you should pick up to make prepping for your holiday dinner much easier.

1. Frozen and Cubed Butternut Squash

Great Value Steamable Butternut Squash, Frozen, 10 oz
Courtesy of Walmart

Frozen and cubed butternut squash is a huge time saver — no peeling and chopping, no mess and fuss. Plus, it's perfect for the fall season and its classic flavors, like cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup and cranberries.

"Save all the peeling and chopping when making butternut squash soup, or substitute the squash for sweet potato for a lower carb casserole or souffle," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. Find it in the freezer section of most supermarkets, warehouses, and Walmart.

Buy it: $1.48; Walmart

2. Microwave Potato Kit

The Little Potato Company Microwave Ready Garlic Parsley Potatoes Kit
Courtesy of Walmart

This kit is great for any eater any time of the year, even if you have a refined palate. But at the holidays, it saves both time and oven space. Plus, it has a creamy texture that most guests are looking for in those decadent holiday sides.

"It comes with a perfectly portioned seasoning packet and instructions to add a small amount of either oil or butter if desired, and creamer potatoes provide a good source of potassium and vitamin B6 along with fiber," says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

Buy it: $4.11; Walmart

3. Canned Fruit

Oregon Specialty Fruit Whole Pitted Red Tart Cherries in Water
Courtesy of Walmart

To save time and fridge or freezer space, grab these canned cherries.

"They're whole pitted cherries canned with water, which means you get no added sugar," says Jones. Add them to quick-cook farro, quinoa, or rice with some sautéed shallots and sage to wow your guests.

"Cherries offer polyphenol antioxidants, as well as natural melatonin to promote relaxation after stressful holiday prep," Jones explains.

Buy it: $10; Walmart

4. Cornbread Mix

Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Cornbread Mix

Cornbread is a great accompaniment to soup, meat, and savory side dishes, but it takes time to prepare, which we don't often have much of when prepping for holiday meals. Store-bought versions can be high in sugar and taste mediocre, in comparison to something homemade.

"Bob's Red Mill's cornbread mix can be prepared as muffins and provides only three grams of added sugar so you can enjoy this side and still feel good in the morning after your other indulgences," says Jones.

Buy it: $3.99; Amazon

5. Pre-shredded Coleslaw

365 by Whole Foods Market, Organic Coleslaw Mix

"I don't spend time shredding cabbage for coleslaw and salads, so I buy this coleslaw mix from Whole Foods for easy healthy eating during the holidays, as it's a simple, colorful mixture of cabbage and carrots that I mix into other greens for a heartier salad," says Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist, Ginger Hultin MS RDN, owner of ChampagneNutrition, and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook.

Or serve the slaw as a side with a light dressing, such as one with olive oil, maple syrup, mustard and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a warm holiday flavor with a bit of bite.

Buy it: $2.99; Amazon

6. Organic Hummus and Vegetables

Whole Foods Market Organic Hummus Original
Courtesy of Whole Foods

It's amazing how many vegetables your guests will eat if you simply put them out on a beautiful platter for a holiday appetizer — and trust us, they'll thank you the next day.

"You don't actually have to spend a lot of time creating appetizers because you can keep it simple, and it will still be a big hit," Hultin says. "I love serving baby carrots and whole-grain crackers with a simple hummus that I buy at the store."

Put them all in a decorative bowl, or serve the hummus in a bowl and line the crackers along a festive tray or cheese board plate, and you have a no-hassle, savory appetizer that's full of protein and fiber to make it just as healthy as it is delicious.

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