How to Make Healthy Holiday Sides


This is a post by Rebel Chef Noel.

Rebels! It’s time for a little roleplaying game. This is a solo adventure, and you’re armed with a few cooking skills that you’ve managed to pick up along your journey…

Situation 1: You’ve been asked to bring a side dish to a family gathering or workplace potluck. In years past, you’ve run out to the store last minute and picked up a bag of dinner rolls, a pre-made pie, or a few cans of creamed corn. But you’ve dedicated this year to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and you’re determined to stay focused during the holidays.

Situation 2: You’ve been invited to a gathering or party, and you know what they’ll be serving as a main dish. It works for you (turkey, ham, brisket, etc.). You’re armed with a battle plan for avoiding willpower-diminishing-foods, but you would still like to eat something besides a pile of meat while you’re there. You decide to bring a healthy dish to share so that you’ll definitely have something to put on your plate, and so you don’t show up to the door empty-handed!

What do you do?

First of all, remember you’re a hero!

Secondly, don’t panic! We’ve got you covered.

Today, we’re going to add two new side dishes to your arsenal. They’re both pretty darn easy, and both can be made vegetarian.

The holidays are already a stressful and busy time. The last thing we want you to do is worry about what you’re going to eat at or bring to a gathering. Here are two options for you to sink your teeth into:

Sauteed Green Beans and Spinach with Lemon and Almonds – Okay, so green beans are legumes and technically not paleo…But as far as legumes go, they’re not half bad. If you want to make this 100% paleo, sub broccoli for green beans and chop it fairly small (1″ or 2.54cm pieces). If you want to make it vegetarian/paleo, sub olive oil for butter/bacon grease.

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Hazelnuts – I like to call these “Brussels Sprouts For People Who Hate Brussels Sprouts.” This will turn the most cautious sprout eater into a sprout lover. Seriously, my family has asked me to bring this and only this to holiday dinners for the past three years. You can eliminate the maple syrup in this recipe to make it no-sugar, but I highly suggest that you don’t. Use less if you want to go low-sugar. And, if you want to make it vegetarian, simply omit the bacon!

Green Beans

Total time: 15 min
Serves: 4 (Multiply the recipe for more servings. If your pan isn’t big enough, make it in batches.)



Noel_Green_Beans6Spinach – 3 cups (709 mL) fresh spinach (packed). Spinach is a leaf, so it doesn’t fit well into a measuring cup. It’s okay if there are a bunch of leaves sticking out of the top. In this recipe, 100% measurement accuracy isn’t necessary. Relax! My cups of spinach looked like this:

Green beans – about 1/2 lb (.22 kg). I measured this out at the store because they have green beans available in bulk this time of year. Places like Trader Joe’s have them pre packaged, and that’s okay too. Do you see something called a French-style green bean? That just means they’re cut in half length wise. These will work too!

Juice from 1/2 of a lemon

Fat – 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of butter/olive oil/bacon grease, or your other favorite fat

Slivered/chopped almonds – 1/4 cup (59 mL). I like the texture of almonds in this dish, but any nut will do. Alternately, if you don’t like nuts or have an allergy, omit this all together and use chopped bacon or sauteed mushrooms instead!

Garlic – 2 cloves or 1/2 tsp (2 mL) pre minced. My mom gave me a jar full of minced garlic recently. This is totally okay to use if you don’t feel up to buying and chopping your own cloves.


1) Rinse your green beans and chop the tops off. (If you have French-Style green beans, you won’t have to do this.)

Take them out of the bag and make a pile with the stems at the top. Use your knife to cut the top 1/4 inch off of them. For my 1/2 lb it took about 2 handfuls and 1.5 minutes to do this. Since you have the knife and cutting board out, now would be a good time to cut your lemon in half also.


2) Pre-heat your pan over medium heat. You’ll want to heat the pan for about 5 minutes (depending on the power of your stove). Generally, if you hold your hand about 6 inches from the pan, you should be able to feel heat/warmth. This means your pan is ready for cookin!

3) Melt your fat in the pan. Put your oil or fat in the pan and let it melt. Grab the handle of the pan and move the pan around at different angles so that you can coat the pan with oil (kind of like one of those maze games with the ball). Having the oil all over your pan will make it easier for you to then coat your veggies in oil…

We’re going to cook the green beans first because they will take a little longer than the spinach to cook. Toss your green beans into the pan and coat them with oil (they will look shiny when they’re coated). Sprinkle some salt and pepper on if you like. Stir them around every couple of minutes so that they cook on all sides.


5) Now add your garlic and stir it into the green beans. Be sure most of it sticks to the beans.


6) After about 5 minutes, toss in your spinach. You might have to do this in batches. Three cups is a lot of spinach and, depending on the size of your pan, the pan may overflow and your spinach might fall out. So if it’s too much,wait until the first cup shrinks down before adding the next cup, and so on…


Mix that around and get it coated in oil. Wait another five minutes, stirring occasionally. When the spinach has started to cook down, it’ll look like this:


7) When the spinach has wilted and the green beans are a bright green, you’re almost done! Now we’ll add the lemon juice and almonds.


Stir it all together really quick, then toss it into a serving dish, tupperware for transporting to a gathering, or directly onto your plate and enjoy!


*Pro-tip! Don’t Lemon your dinner! Munching down on a bitter, crunchy lemon seed after you’ve taken a bite of delicious food sucks! (I know because I always forget about lemon seeds until I’ve already squeezed them into my food. Do as I say, not as I do.) To avoid this tragedy, squeeze the juice into a bowl first and then remove the seeds. Or, if you have a juicer that gets rid of the seeds for you, use that!

Brussels Sprouts:

Total time: 50 minutes
Serves: 6-8 (feel free to multiply the recipe if you need more.)



  • 2 lbs (.90 kg) Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup (59 mL) Olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 mL) Salt1/4 teaspoon  (1 ml) Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) Toasted Hazelnuts (or pecans)L
  • 2 Slices Bacon
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 mL) 100% pure maple syrup – make sure it’s REAL maple syrup. Most syrups are actually “maple flavored” high fructose corn syrup, common in the pancake aisle at your local grocer. Yuck!


1) Pre heat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 C) and heat up your frying pan.

2) It’s time for the prep work! Line your baking sheet with foil and rinse your brussels sprouts. Easy enough.

3) Take the sprouts a few at a time and place them on your cutting board. You’re going to chop off the bottom “stem” part off the sprout.


Then you’re going to chop those little guys in half. Take the halves and toss them into a mixing bowl. Discard the stems.


4) The oven should be pretty hot by now. Before we roast the sprouts, we’re going to toast the hazelnuts. Take the nuts and spread them out on your baking sheet. Place them in the oven for 1-2 minutes. Watch them VERY CAREFULLY! Once the nuts start to cook, they burn very quickly (I always burn my first batch). The nuts will begin to darken and will smell delicious and toasty. Pull them out of the oven and put them on a plate.


When the nuts are cool enough to touch, place them on your cutting board and chop them. It’s easiest to use a large knife for this.


5) Once you’ve finished cutting all your sprouts, pour in the olive oil and sprinkle your salt and pepper. Mix them around to make sure they’re all coated. Now toss them onto your baking sheet and spread them out into one layer.


6) Place the sheet in the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes. Make sure to watch the timer and stir the sprouts around with a spatula about every 15 minutes. This will ensure that all sides of the sprout get roasted.

7) Now your frying pan should be heated. Place your two strips of bacon on the pan and let them cook, flipping occasionally. When the bacon is done, remove it from the pan and set it on a paper towel.

When the bacon has cooled, chop it into little pieces on your cutting board and set aside for later (it may be tempting, but do not snack yet).


During the last 10 minutes that the brussels sprouts are in the oven, Open up the door and pull them out. Carefully drizzle maple syrup over the sprouts and mix them to coat.


Then put them back in the oven and let them finish cooking.

When your timer goes off, remove the sprouts from the oven, place them in a bowl, and toss them with the chopped bacon and toasted nuts!




Share the good food!


The holidays are one of the most stressful times of the year. They’re filled with busyness, shopping, stress, work parties, gatherings with friends, and lot’s of family time.

 All of those things are also what makes this time of the year so awesome! Enjoy this time with family and friends that you might not get to see every day.

Armed with one (or both) of these two recipes, combined with Staci’s guide to avoiding a food confrontation, you should feel confident at your holiday events this year.

Consider it an opportunity to show off your new found cooking skills to your friends and family. You may or may not want to talk about your new healthy habits with your Great Aunt Gertrude, but the important thing is that you brought food to the table and contributed a healthy dish to a meal!

What are some of your favorite healthy holiday sides?


PS: We’ve added these recipes and a few dozen more to our Nerd Fitness Academy, which has recipes, meal plans, workout plans, and even the ability to complete quests and missions and level up as you get healthier. Check it out!


floodllama: happy thanksgiving, Ian Westcot: Thanksgiving Dinner

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