30+ Low-Carb Thanksgiving Side Dishes and Ideas


Smoked Turkey, Pumpkin Casserole, Fresh Berry Fluff Salad
Get over 30 side dishes to make
your low-carb Thanksgiving Dinner
the best one yet.

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When it comes to the holidays, sticking to your low-carb diet can be rough. Holiday fun is always filled to the brim with tempting, luscious desserts, sugary treats, and comforting side dishes that mama always made.

The good news is that both turkey and ham are no-carb goodies that you don't have to give up, even if you're a diabetic. But hey -- even turkey gravy won't set you back a ton of carbs. The good news is that you don't have to side step any of your holiday favorites.

Just say "no" to the sugary glazes and carby brines, and we'll show you how to make keto-friendly turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and all of the other classic trimmings you've been missing.


Coming up with a hearty Thanksgiving menu that includes some of these terrific low-carb Thanksgiving side dishes and ideas is easy. With a bit of planning, your meal can be tasty as well as appeal to the senses.

For example, if Thanksgiving isn't going to be at your house, it would be simple to take a couple of the following 30 low-carb side dishes with you, and maybe even share a super-good sugar-free dessert.

For those who have to eat gluten free, we have tricks for you too: Why not cook your Thanksgiving dinner at home and then take a plate with you.

There is always a way to make the holiday work well, without feeling deprived, so come along. Low-carb doesn't mean misery. In fact, your holiday offering will look so good, you'll be the envy of all of your friends and family.

Pinterest Image: Smoked Turkey, Pumpkin Casserole, Fluffy Salad, Tomato Salad, and Fresh Berries

Take Thanksgiving Day Off? Not So Fast!


High-Carb Thanksgiving Dinner: turkey, dressing, potatoes, cranberry sauce
Is going off low carb 
for Thanksgiving really a good idea?


There are lots of low-carb dieters that take Thanksgiving off.

They help themselves to a large serving of turkey or ham, then fill a third of their plate with lettuce salad, take a very small serving of sugary sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a larger serving of grandma's green bean casserole, so she won't feel bad, that fruit-salad fluff stuff that mom always makes for Thanksgiving, and maybe one of Aunt Jesse's homemade rolls.

They can even stop at half a serving of pumpkin pie with a squirt of whipped cream on top and be right back on their low-carb diet the following morning, completely satisfied and ready to get on with their low-carb journey.

But:

If you have celiac disease or diabetes, going off plan isn't an option. Plus, everyone doesn't have that type of control.

That's reality.

Plus:

Those with gluten sensitivity, but don't know it, cannot eat like that for even one meal without making themselves sick for a couple of days, or more.

If you're sensitive or allergic to wheat or gluten and don't know it, going off plan can be risky. You can actually become seriously ill if you eat anything with wheat, gluten, or some other food your body doesn't like.

For many people, even a single bite of pumpkin pie or turkey stuffing can trigger cravings. Before you know it, you'll go face down into the mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. You may, or may not, come up for air after polishing off a second piece of Pecan Pie, but why take the risk?

If you're like many other low-carb dieters, you might not wake up for two or three months!

Making excuses about returning to your ketogenic plan the following morning is easy. In fact, a week later, after polishing off those Thanksgiving leftovers, you might still find your self chowing down on chocolate chip cookies and Salsa Verde Doritos.


When you finally come to your senses, what happens next?
  • You feel guilty for having eating off plan.
  • You feel weak because you couldn't say "no."
  • You start beating yourself up for lacking the strength to stay firm.
  • You have lots of regret because you've probably gained a few pounds. 
Why put yourself through all of that?


You don't have to go into self-destructive mode and beat yourself up for going off plan.

You don't have to ruin all your hard work.

Just use some of these tasty 30 low-carb Thanksgiving side dishes and you can keep moving toward your weight loss goals!

But first, a word of caution:

Low-carb options for Thanksgiving shouldn't be dreary and boring. Save those plain steamed vegetables for those crazy nights when dinner is late and you need a quick meal.

Enjoy your holiday by thinking ahead.

First: Let's Talk Appetizers


Chunky Guacamole Makes a Nice Low-Carb Appetizer
Don't settle for a boring bowl of smashed avocado.
Perk up that guacamole with tomato and spices!

Traditionally, a Thanksgiving table contains a lot of finger foods:
  • crackers with spreads
  • raw vegetable platters with homemade Ranch Dressing
  • potato chips and dip
  • black or green olives
  • dill pickles
And a bunch of other finger goodies.

Thanksgiving platters can easily be made low-carb with just a little pre-prep and know-how.

In a previous blog post, Low-Carb Superbowl Goodies, I showed you how to make your own dips, spreads, and cheeseballs, as well as gave links for tasty recipes like almond-nut crackers, cheese crackers, and homemade salsa. With the help of that post, you can recreate the standard list of appetizers above without going off plan.


While you're there, don't forget to check out the list of extra Superbowl ideas, as some of them, such as stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, cold shrimp, and even jalapeno poppers, would be great to add to your Thanksgiving table.

You can also whip up some jalapeno cheese crackers or turkey-cheese cutouts by swapping Thanksgiving symbols and cookie cutters for the Christmas symbols I used when creating a faux cookie plate a couple of years ago. Homemade Ranch dressing is super easy to make yourself, too.

Although ham and turkey usually play center stage, there's no rule that says they have to.

  • meatballs
  • spicy chicken wings
  • cheese cubes with fancy toothpicks
  • hot dog chunks wrapped in bacon and broiled
These ideas can beef up your holiday table and turn it into something special.

What About the Main Dish?


Hubby wanted to try and smoke a medium-sized turkey a few years ago in the smoker, so that's what we often do now, but you can easily roast up a turkey, ham, beef roast, or pork loin in the oven without a lot of fuss.


A turkey bag will work to keep both a turkey or ham nice and juicy, but you do sacrifice a nice crispy skin when you use those bags. Just follow directions on the box.

If you don't want to use a bag, roast the turkey, ham, beef or pork roast underneath a tent of foil. Foil works beautifully for almost any type of meat. If you enjoy crispy skin, remove the foil for the last hour.


Since both hubby and I are gluten-free, Thanksgiving has always been held at our house, but company has rarely showed up, so a smaller turkey was always big enough for the two of us.

Some years, we've simply roasted a couple of game hens for Thanksgiving instead of cooking up a whole turkey. A turkey breast thrown into the crock pot would also make a nice Thanksgiving main dish for two.

This year, we're planning on having Thanksgiving at my son's house. He's well educated on eating gluten free, so I feel confident enough to eat there. We're bringing a fruit salad made with fresh berries and whipped cream (how to do that is below), and a gluten-free blackberry pie (not low carb) for hubby.

If you're feeding a crowd, you'll want to plan about half a pound of turkey or ham per person. That will give you plenty of leftovers for salads and lunches throughout the week.

Thanksgiving Dinner: Home-Smoked Turkey Breast and Coleslaw
Hubby's First Smoked Turkey 
When we went grocery shopping for the turkey that first year, we ran into a great deal on turkey breast, so hubby opted for the breast instead of doing a whole turkey.

It turned out great!

Since holidays can get pretty crazy for us, I try to keep Thanksgiving Dinner simple:

We had:
  • smoked turkey breast
  • basic coleslaw
  • homemade cranberry sauce
I almost forgot the cranberry sauce. It was still in the refrigerator when I took the above photo.


Traditional Thanksgiving Side Dishes Low-Carb Style


If you want to keep to tradition, the following classic Thanksgiving side dishes can be easily made low carb. Just use the tweaks and ideas below:


Low-Carb Turkey Gravy: 


If you like a bit of gravy over your turkey, traditional turkey gravy isn't all that bad. A quarter cup of real gravy will only set you back 3 carbs. However, keto-friendly turkey gravy isn't difficult to make, thanks to the thickening power of cream cheese.

NOTE: I have always used an off-brand cream cheese that comes in a 3-pound block from Costco. Here, in Texas, Costco sells a carton of 6 individual boxes of Philadelphia brand cream cheese. Both of these cream cheese options have vegetable gums added, which helps with the thickening process. Vegetable gums make this recipe fine for Atkins Induction. If you happen to use a brand that does not contain vegetable gum, the following recipe might not work as well for you. In that case, you might have to add some vegetable gum or cornstarch yourself. Please note that cornstarch is not allowed on Atkins Induction.

Just put a cup of chicken broth into a small saucepan, spike it with some of those great turkey drippings, and let it simmer for awhile, until it boils down to about half of its previous volume. Add 8-ounces of cream cheese, or more, chopped up, so it will melt easier. Heat the broth and turkey drippings, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted, and the broth is creamy. Add a bit of heavy cream and simmer.

Season your low-carb turkey gravy with:
  • poultry seasoning
  • sage
  • basil
  • herbs and spices
The gravy will thicken as it simmers, but it will be thinner than a traditional gravy. If you don't want to reduce the volume or if it isn't as thick as you want it to be, you can always add a pinch of xanthan gum to make it thicker. Be very careful if you are new to using vegetable gum thickeners. Too much will ruin the gravy.

Don't add more than a pinch.

You can also begin with the cream cheese and add just enough chicken broth and heavy cream to bring it to the proper consistency. For a special touch, add some sauteed mushrooms to the sauce.

Low-Carb Turkey Stuffing:


We are really not stuffing folks. Never have been. I did experiment once with using crushed pork rinds to make a turkey stuffing, but it didn't turn out very well, so I've never done it that way again. Some people do like it. Just not us.

Since then, I've decided that trying to copy the diet that got me fat in the first place really isn't a good idea. Nothing compares to real bread stuffing, and you're more likely to cheat or go off plan if you try to settle for keto food that isn't the best.

For us, I've found it better to just come up with new holiday traditions rather than trying to copy what was.

However, if you live in an area where you can get your hands on low-carb bread, and you're not sensitive to wheat gluten, here's a recipe for low-carb turkey stuffing that supposedly tastes like the real thing. It would be a great accompaniment to that turkey gravy above. Low-carb bread is not suitable for Induction, however.

Fake Mashed Potatoes:

I feel the same way about low-carb mashed potatoes. Many dieters use cauliflower to imitate the texture of mashed potatoes, especially for Induction, but I've never been interested in trying it.

Back in 1999, I made a fake potato salad using cauliflower. Although it was good, and would make an excellent Thanksgiving salad, it didn't taste like potato salad at all. The taste buds (and especially the brain) could tell the difference between cauliflower salad and potato salad, so the mind wasn't very happy.

For those of you who want to give mashed cauliflower a try, you can watch how to do it in the following video:



Pumpkin Casserole:

This is my one exception to imitating old Thanksgiving stand-bys. We really, really like this casserole, which imitates a sweet potato casserole I used to make before going Keto. Please note that while pumpkin is allowed on Induction the nuts and coconut in the following recipe are not.

If you're cooking for a crowd, I've heard that you can add a small sweet potato to the pumpkin mixture and it will taste just like the whole thing is sweet potato, in both taste and texture. Some winter squashes also have a pumpkin flavor, but we can't get those in our area, even here in Texas.

You can find the recipe for the pumpkin casserole in our archives: Low-Carb Thanksgiving Pumpkin Casserole

Low-Carb Cranberry Sauce: 

Sugar-free cranberry sauce is super easy to make yourself. Just walk on by the canned carby stuff on those grocery shelves. This recipe gives you the control over the type of sugar substitute you use, as well as the quantity.

A typical cranberry sauce recipe calls for a 12-ounce bag of fresh, whole cranberries, 2 cups of sugar, and a cup of water.
The sugar can easily be substituted with Erythritol, Splenda, or a combination of both. The combo works the best, but I've made it both ways.

I've also done it with all Spenda, but it loses the traditional sticky goodness without any sugar alcohol. I have never tried this with Stevia, but there's no reason why it wouldn't work.

In addition, I always add Christmas spices to my cranberry sauce:
  • cinnamon
  • ginger
  • allspice
  • cloves
Pumpkin pie spices or apple pie spices would also work well.

Green Bean Casserole: 

Traditionally, green bean casserole is simply 2 cans of well-drained french-cut green beans mixed with a can of cream of mushroom soup. The beans are then piled into a small casserole dish and topped with crushed, canned french-fried onion rings, and baked until bubbly.

You can do the same thing using the low-carb gravy recipe above. This makes it suitable for Induction. To tweak it, just use 1/2 cup of chicken broth and the 8-ounces of cream cheese, or more. Add some minced mushrooms and dried minced onions to the gravy, and top the casserole with some crumbled pork rinds rather than canned onions.

Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Side Dishes


Some of the following Thanksgiving side dishes are actually traditional dishes for us. I don't stick to the classics. I simply choose some of our favorites that I don't ordinarily serve, except on special occasions. This keeps the holiday plate extra special for us. However, seasonal items like asparagus always show up on our Thanksgiving table.

Asparagus with Cheese Sauce:


Bundle of fresh asparagus


This is hubby's favorite vegetable side dish. He asks for it every single Thanksgiving. For years, I would simply steam the asparagus and then make a low-carb cheese sauce to ladle over the top.

Lately, I've been using the microwave because it keeps the asparagus from going soggy.

I simply place the asparagus, cut into serving sized pieces, into a small Corningware casserole dish and add a tiny bit of water. Cover the casserole dish and nuke for about 5 minutes. The type of dish I have comes with a glass top, but a paper towel would work if you don't have a regular lid. If the asparagus is thick, you might need to nuke it for another 2 or 3 minutes.

To make a low-carb Induction-friendly cheese sauce:

Melt about 1/4 cube butter in a skillet. Once melted, add 4-ounces of chopped cream cheese. Stir and mash the cheese, until the cheese is hot. It won't melt all the way. Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Stir and cook the sauce until the cream cheese is completely melted.

At this point, you can add a cup of whatever cheese you like. Parmesan will turn this into Alfredo and a sharp cheddar will make a nice yellow sauce. Six to 8 slices of real American cheese (the kind that doesn't come individually wrapped) makes a smooth, traditional orange cheese sauce.

You can also kick this up a notch by adding some crumbled bacon and using bacon grease to replace part of the butter.

Green Beans with Bacon and Mushrooms:

I hardly ever make green bean casserole for Thanksgiving anymore. If asparagus isn't available, or is overpriced, I'm more likely to fry up some bacon chunks, sliced mushrooms, and chopped red onion in a skillet. Once well cooked, I'll add a couple cans of well-drained regular cut green beans to the skillet. Toss the beans as the beans heat up, so they get well coated in the bacon grease. A bit of chopped tomato adds a nice, colorful touch to this. This recipe is also fine for those on Induction.

Tangerine-Walnut Coleslaw: 

This is our absolutely most favorite coleslaw recipe.

I normally don't serve a lettuce salad for Thanksgiving, since we eat a lot of salad throughout the year, but if Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving for you without a crisp lettuce salad, don't forget to check out our tips and tricks for making the perfect low-carb salad. The post also includes several homemade dressings.

If the weather is warm, I'm more likely to make coleslaw instead. This Tangerine-Walnut Coleslaw from our archives is really, really good. You can sub the walnuts for any type of nuts you like. Hubby prefers pecans.

The little cutie tangerines are about 8 net carbs for a large tangerine. Keep in mind those 8 carbs are spread out over 6 to 8 servings, so they will only set you back 1 carb. I've also made this recipe with an orange, when the cutie tangerines were not available, but the carbs are a bit higher that way. Dried unsweetened cranberries and a few sunflower seeds would also add a nice holiday touch if you're doing Atkins 40.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad:

This is an easy, colorful little Atkins Induction-friendly salad that will really perk up your Thanksgiving table. The ingredients are simply 2 to 3 tomatoes cut into chunks, some red onion, a sliced cucumber, and a few whole black olives.

The secret is in the salad dressing. I used a tangy-and-sweet bean-salad dressing that I sweetened with Splenda, but you can use any sugar substitute you like that won't add to the carb count.

For the dressing, combine:

6 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Herb and Garlic Seasoning
1 teaspoon Italian seasonings
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
minced cilantro

Mix together well, pour over the vegetables, and chill for several hours before serving. If you make this a day ahead, the tomato will wilt, but it will still taste good.

Low-Carb Spinach Pie: 

This is an extra special vegetable pie that hubby really loves. It's made with mushrooms, eggs, and cream cheese, and then baked in a pie plate without a shell. Although it looks fancy, you can eat this even on Induction.

Originally, the Low-Carb Spinach Pie recipe called for sliced tomatoes on top of the pie, and Parmesan cheese, but I usually don't add the sliced tomatoes anymore. Some grated cheese on the top makes an excellent presentation, though, especially Parmesan cheese, as it browns nicely and adds a great flavor.

Special Holiday Fruit Fluff Salad

I traditionally make this for the Fourth of July, but I also make it at Thanksgiving a lot, since some type of fresh berries are always available year round here in the states. You can find the recipe in our Fourth of July Article.

Low-Carb Thanksgiving Desserts


When I originally wrote this article, I wasn't using sugar substitutes in the quantity you need for low-carb desserts, but here are some of the desserts I used to make when I was in the weight-loss phase:


Low-Carb Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie:

If you're not allergic to wheat, carbolose flour makes a super easy, good tasting low-carb pie crust.

Carbolose flour is made with enzyme-modified wheat, wheat protein, and plant fiber, so it won't be appropriate for you if you're sensitive to wheat or have celiac disease. However, if wheat is not an issue, Carbolose flour is less than 5 carbs per quarter cup, due to its high fiber content.

To make a delicious low-carb pie crust, you just toss all of the ingredients together like you would for an all-purpose flour based crust, and pat the dough into a deep dish pie plate. I was really surprised when I tried it (before going gluten free). There was no after taste at all, probably because of the pie filling.

I just used a traditional pumpkin pie recipe available on the back of the Libby's pumpkin can, but used sugar substitute and 1/2 cup of heavy cream instead of the can of evaporated milk.

Low-Carb Pumpkin Custard: 

If you are sensitive to wheat, or on Induction, you can bake the pumpkin pie in a well-greased pie plate without the crust. I've done this with extra large custard cups, as well. Make sure that you butter the pie plate extremely well, so the custard doesn't stick when you try to dish it up. Individual custard cups would solve that problem.

Low-Carb Chocolate Cake: 

Pumpkin desserts are traditional for Thanksgiving, of course. But back before I knew I had celiac disease, I used to make this Low-Carb Chocolate-Mayonnaise Pound Cake for special occasions. It does call for several specialty ingredients though, and needs to be made a day ahead for the moisture to redistribute itself throughout the cake or the cake will be drier than you'd like.

I have not tried to make this without the vital wheat gluten, as it's the gluten that makes this recipe rise up like a traditional chocolate cake.

Splenda quick pack is no longer available, but it was equal to 1 cup bulk Splenda. The bulk Splenda will be high in carbs, as it packs a whallop of 24 carbs per cup. So, if I were making this today, I'd use:


OR


Liquid Stevia

Both are better choices than bulk sweeteners as they are calorie free and carb free.

Creamy Pumpkin Pudding Pie: 

This easy pumpkin pie filling can be used with an almond or almond-coconut pie crust, or you can simply served it in fancy glasses as a pudding. Please note that instant pudding mix is not allowed for those on Induction.

For the almond crust: Combine 1-1/2 cups almond flour, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 egg white, and a sugar substitute that's equal to 1/4 cup sugar. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to set the egg white. Cool before filling. For a coconut-almond crust, substitute 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut for 1/2 cup of almond flour.

For the pie filling: In a large bowl, combine 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup mashed pumpkin, a small package of instant sugar-free vanilla or pumpkin pudding mix, and 8-ounces of cream cheese. Beat well. Adjust thickness with extra heavy cream if needed. Pile into a low-carb nut crust or fancy glasses and chill.

Easy Strawberry Pie

If you have some whole strawberries in your freezer, you might want to check out our recipe for a super-good easy strawberry pie. It's made with strawberry gelatin and vanilla instant pudding mix, so it is higher in carbs than other low-carb desserts.

Keep Holidays Special


Smoked chicken and salad
Make your low-carb holiday meal
special with these 30
spectacular low-carb side dishes!

The holidays are a special time to spend with family and friends, but don't let the social occasion spoil everything you've accomplished over the past year. Thanksgiving is a time to look at your life and find gratitude for your blessings.

Health is certainly one of the blessings that sticking to your ketogenic diet can provide.

If you have insulin resistance, diabetes, cholesterol problems, or metabolic syndrome, seeking out low-carb recipes that you can use for social occasions rather than chucking your diet and eating whatever is available is essential to making your new lifestyle work.

Don't short-change yourself. Plan ahead and make your Thanksgiving Dinner the best it can be.


Comments

  1. Hungry for thanksgiving from looking at the pictures.

    I've replaced the dressing with a baked potato and put some toppings on the side like cheese, bacon bits and chives.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for such great ideas! I especially can't wait to try the cream cheese for thickening gravy; that canned stuff is gross no matter how low carb it is. I always use cream cheese for making creamed spinach - it tastes so much better than the old white sauce. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sandy,
    Hubby would really like that type of baked potato I think. He's not into gravy, so he hardly ever asks me for mashed potatoes. I can't believe how fast Thanksgiving is coming. I am totally unprepared this year.

    ReplyDelete
  4. TiGRe812,
    You're welcome. And I love your creamed spinach idea. Hubby loves spinach, and I'm always looking for lower-carb side dishes he won't mind eating.

    ReplyDelete

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