Save Room for Sides!

These kid-friendly Thanksgiving side dishes will have everyone coming back for seconds

By Zara Abbasi Photos by Katie Childs

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There’s a chill in the air, you can finally wear that favorite cardigan and pumpkin pies are popping up on menus everywhere. This could only mean one thing: Thanksgiving guests will be knocking on your door before you know it. 

Now I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because, of course, I love my family, but also because I love FOOD (especially side dishes). Actually, come to think of it, I think I can—and have—made a full meal out of sides only. Side dishes can be so lackluster that they sit untouched at the table, or they can be spectacular enough to steal the show from even the main bird.

When you are hosting or invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, there’s a lot of pressure to make everyone happy. You want to have a successful dish, one that you might not have to spend hours making, with ingredients that are readily accessible and one that will also be kid-friendly. In short, you want everyone to eat it and everyone to love it. How hard can that be, right? Do you hear my exasperation? Because it’s here. But don’t fret! We can do this together! 

So, before getting into what to make, I think it’s necessary to provide different categories of side dishes. Some dishes end up on our tables out of pure nostalgia and tradition; those dishes are very important whether the ingredients are canned, fresh or homegrown. These dishes are culinary hugs from those we love most, and the recipes should remain untouched—unless, of course, these dishes sit alone in the corner literally untouched. Then by all means, jazz them up. Examples include traditional casserole dishes and some form of marshmallow ‘salad’ (which I’m not a fan of at all, unfortunately).

The second category of sides is the modern and avant garde dish. These are dishes you might not be used to seeing at your table. They might be more refined, require foreign ingredients and/or may require techniques and processes that may seem unfamiliar. Some examples include turkey ramen or pumpkin pie caviar. Those are great for very specific audiences and a fantastic way to explore different ways to celebrate this holiday, but might not be the best way to win over any young, picky guests.

The last category is the perfect balance of the previous two: reimagined dishes. These side dishes are approachable, a blend of old and new, and can be crowd-pleasers. This is the category I live in. I love the modern dishes as well as the traditional ones, but I look forward to the new, yet approachable dishes in this category most. Being a mom to three kids has taught me a few things: kids love novelty ideas, handheld things and cheesy, bacon-y dishes (well, I think we all love that, don’t we?). So, I have created three recipes that hopefully fit the bill for all these requirements.


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Crispy Cheesy Broccoli Florets

I’m beginning to think maybe it’s me who likes the handheld snacks! No, no, it’s still the kids. But these are great crowd-pleasers for older guests, too. This is a reimagined version of the tried-and-true broccoli cheese casserole we see at many dinner tables during Thanksgiving, it’s just a little healthier and more fun for kids. Also, I’m told by an eating expert (my son) that these are fantastic dipped in ranch dressing. 

12 ounces frozen broccoli florets, no need to thaw
2 cups Colby jack or pepper jack cheese (depending on who’ll be eating it)
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs or crushed butter crackers
3 eggs
½ stick butter, melted (mind the salt if using salted butter)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine all ingredients and press the coating on to the broccoli. Place the coated florets on a greased tray and move around to make sure none are clumped together. Bake for 10 minutes and flip, then bake for an additional 10 minutes checking to make sure they do not burn or over-brown. Drizzle tops with melted butter and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Serve plain or with ranch for the kiddos. For more adventurous eaters, serve with a kicked up jalapeño mayo (mix chopped, jarred jalapeños with a little of your favorite mayo and thin with buttermilk or cream). 


Spicy roasted pumpkin seeds recipe

Duchess Sweet Potatoes

Like I said, kids love novel ideas. They like things that are different and things that look cool. Well these certainly fit the bill. These piped sweet potatoes are adorable and look like they belong on top of cupcakes. They are also handheld, which kids love. And did I mention that they look ADORABLE?! Well, they do. Add these to your holiday dinner table and watch the kids ooh and ahh over them before they quickly disappear. 

3 pounds sweet potatoes washed and peeled
1/3 cup salted butter
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
Salt to taste

Option 1: For Drizzling (melt together)
3 tablespoons salted butter
4 tablespoons brown sugar, melted
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

Option 2: For topping
1 cup pecans
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon each cumin, cayenne and ancho chili powder

Boil water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cut the sweet potatoes into chunks and boil for 15-20 minutes or until completely cooked through, then drain water. Return potatoes to the saucepan and allow the residual heat to continue drying the potatoes (the more water that is retained in the potatoes, the gummier they may end up being. We want fluffy, delicious potatoes so dry those puppies out!) Add the butter and cream to the drained potatoes and mash with a masher first before using a hand mixer. Use a hand mixer to beat the potatoes until the butter is completely melted and the potatoes are smooth. Add in the eggs and flour and beat for an additional 1-2 minutes until completely mixed in, but do not over mix. Take a large disposable decorating bag or a large Ziploc bag and snip off the tip or corner. Place a large star piping tip inside the bag and push it into the cut off tip. Fill the decorating bag with the sweet potato mixture and spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line with a parchment sheet. Take the decorating bag, hold it perpendicular to the baking sheet and pipe a swirling mound of sweet potatoes. Continue until you’ve used all of the sweet potato mixture. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes then broil for last 2-3 minutes making sure to keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Option 1: Drizzle brown sugar mixture over each one while still hot.

Option 2: To add an extra layer of flavor for your adult guests, add chopped, spiced pecans on each duchess potato. (Quick spiced pecans: toss pecans in a little butter, ancho chili powder, cumin and cayenne. Toast quickly in oven and chop when cooled.)


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Healthier Corn and Bacon Dip
(or casserole)

I don’t know why I wrote the word “healthier” because we all see the words that follow that word. Don’t worry, I’m laughing too. But seriously, this is one of those culinary hugs I was talking about. My daughter loves this dish, but I don’t really love all the cream cheese and extra fats in there, so I thought I’d find a way to trick her…err…I mean…see if it’s possible to create a lighter version of this dish that my kid would still love. Well, I succeeded because she (and other kids) still gobbled it up without missing all the extra fats. She could not tell that I had completely omitted the cream cheese. So, this is one of those fun dishes that still has the bacon in it, but it’s just a touch better for you and your kiddos.

6-8 slices of bacon, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic paste, or 3 cloves minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt 
4 cups fresh, whole corn kernels
        (about 4-5 medium corn cobs. Can use frozen if you’d like)

OPTION 1: 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh parsley and basil

OPTION 2: ½ cup roasted green chili peppers and 2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside to drain on paper towels. Sauté the chopped onions in the same skillet in 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat and cook until translucent. Stir in flour, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in the corn, yogurt, parsley (if using) and half of the bacon. Mix well and pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining bacon evenly over the top of the casserole and bake, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes, or until heated through. Add basil before serving, if using. Option 2: Add green chilies at the same time as the onions and cook together and use cilantro instead of parsley.