My family had many food traditions that I treasure, but sometimes I also like to shake things up a little and veer off the regular menu. Other than poultry, mashed white potatoes, and whipped sweet potatoes, my Thanksgiving menu varies a little every year. I’ll make two or three different vegetables, and also a different stuffing recipe. And, we always roast chestnuts.

There’s nothing wrong with a traditional stuffing. I’m sure many of you look forward to that classic family recipe for stuffing at the holidays. (If you have a family recipe you treasure, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section!)

But, if you want to change it up a little, and increase your vegetable intake – these ideas are for you. I like to call recipes, “ideas” – because you can use them as an inspiration to create something different of your own. Ingredients such as cranberries, chopped apples, mushrooms or nuts can be added to almost any stuffing-type dish. You can always vary the herbs or spices a little, use more or less onion or pepper, or add extra chopped fruit.

You Say Dressing, I say Stuffing

Technically, “stuffing” is a bread mixture put into the bird, and cooked with the bird. You can find a lot of different definitions of the two, and sometimes it depends on which part of the country is defining the term. Either way, you say po-tay-toe, I say po-tay-ta. It’s all good. I usually make a “dressing” (even though I sometimes call it stuffing!).  This year, I’m going to swap out one of the vegetable side dishes and instead add the vegetables to my stuffing. Check out my Brussels Sprouts Dressing recipe below.

How can you create a more nutritious stuffing dish?

I asked my dietitian colleagues for some vegetable-focused stuffing variations. In addition to being a delicious twist on your side dish routine, these plant-forward dishes all offer more nutrition than a traditional stuffing or dressing because of add-ins or swaps. Some of the dishes really aren’t stuffing, but a stuffing-inspired side dish.

These two mushroom stuffings add some nutrition oomph to a traditional bread stuffing. Brynne McDowell, The Domestic Dietitian, offers up a savory Apple, Leek, and Mushroom stuffing. I love leeks. They offer a unique flavor – so if you haven’t tried them, give them a go! Mushrooms are loaded with B vitamins, which help your body turn fat, carbohydrate and protein into energy. They also help support your nervous system.

©Brynne McDowell

Kara Lydon’s Slow Cooker Mushroom Stuffing is a brilliant way to save yourself some time-management-stress on turkey day. Prep it in the morning, and it can just sit by itself in the corner while you handle other tasks or visit with guests. If you have a picky eater in the family that turns their nose up to mushrooms, don’t tell them you’re sneaking them into these dishes. They give the stuffing a meaty feel, and blend with all of the other ingredients (they won’t even know they’re getting all of those good anti-oxidants and other nutrients).

Jessica Levinson created a delicious Roasted Butternut Squash and Cranberry Quinoa Salad with Cider Dijon Vinaigrette that can serve as a lighter option to stuffing.  Mixed with butternut squash and cranberries, it’s not just delicious, but is a feast for the eyes. It adds a colorful addition to the table. The squash is loaded with beta carotene (vitamin A) and the quinoa provides a protein boost plus more fiber than traditional stuffing. If you’re spending Thanksgiving in a warmer climate, this lighter dish may be more appealing to you and your guests.

© Jessica Levinson

Diane Norwood, a.k.a. The Wandering RD, created a Baked Acorn Squash with Sausage “Stuffing”.  This recipe is two-for-one, as it combines a traditional stuffing with a baked acorn squash. It uses sausage – a traditional stuffing ingredient – and amps up nutrition with sweet potatoes, apples, pecans, and cranberries. This recipe is also gluten-free. You could just make a batch of the stuffing part of the recipe if you like. But, the acorn squash adds extra nutrition – loads of beta-carotene and potassium in this dish. Diane offers tips for variations of this recipe at her blog.

©Diane Norwood The Wondering RD

Min Mary Kwon, created a flavorful and light vegetarian dressing (that’ll leave room for all of the other fixings on your Thanksgiving table). Her Vegetarian Cauliflower Cornbread Dressing packs five different veggies into it (onions, cauliflower, mushrooms, corn, and celery). This recipe uses lots of the familiar seasonings that you typically find in sausage (including sage). The cauliflower adds some fiber, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C to the dish.

© MJandHungryMan

Chelsey Amer’s Wild Rice, Cranberry, and Collard Greens Stuffing is packed with whole grains, vegetables and flavor. This rice-based salad is a a nice option if you’d like a lighter side dish or want to add a vegetarian dish to the table. The greens add color, and provide extra B-vitamins.

©Chelsey Amer

Bring on Thanksgiving

I hope you’ll enjoy experimenting with some new recipes for your family table. I’ve known people to make two or three dressing or stuffing dishes for Thanksgiving – so go on and bring a new one this year! Food can be a wonderful way to create family traditions. The secret to health is balance. Keep thinking finding creative and tasty ways to add more veggies to your table through the season.

What’s your favorite family food tradition? Share in the comments.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Brussels Sprouts Dressing

This is a spin on a classic stuffing, but focuses on the Brussels Sprouts.
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Author Rosanne Rust MS RDN,


  • 2 cups Bread cubes, whole grain, toasted
  • 1 tsp ground thyme
  • 4 cups Brussels sprouts, shredded or coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 TB butter, divided
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere
  • low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup each, dried cranberries and chopped pecans or walnuts optional


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x11 glass baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Place bread cubes onto baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme. Bake for 5-10 minutes until toasted (this can be done 1-2 days ahead).
  • Add oil and 1 TB butter to large nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  • When butter is melted add the shallots, stir gently until just tender, about 1 minute. Remove shallots, set aside.
  • Add olive oil to pan and heat on medium. Add Brussels Sprouts to pan. Stir until slightly tender and browned, about 4-6 minutes. Transfer to bowl.
  • Pour half and half into pan over low heat, and stir to combine. Add rosemary sprig. Turn heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add a bit of broth if necessary, remove rosemary sprig. Transfer Sprouts back to pan and stir. Add cranberries and nuts, if using. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Transfer mixture to the prepared baking dish. Spread evenly. Top with cheese and bread cube mixture. Bake for 35 minutes until golden. Can be made ahead and reheated. Add 1/2 cup broth, evenly, to the dish before reheating.


Note: You can half or double the recipe. This makes 8 servings, but can feed up to 10 on Thanksgiving, when there's often several side dishes.
Make your own stuffing cubes or you can buy them. Usually they come in a rather large bag, so I suggest making them for this recipe. They're easy to make. Use a good, crusty bread (preferably whole wheat). For 2 cups of stuffing cubes, slice bread into five 3/4-inch slices. Cut each slice into cubes, a little less than 1-inch square. Spray a baking pan with vegetable oil and place cubes onto pan (a toaster oven works well for this small batch). Drizzle bread with 1 tsp of olive oil. Season cubes with sage, thyme, or poultry seasoning. Bake for 3-5 minutes, or until toasted. 
You can prep both the Sprouts and the bread cubes up to two days ahead.
You can also add 1/4 cup dried cranberries and 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts to this dish.

Recipe contains affiliate Amazon links to my favorite products, and I make a small fee if you purchase them.