On a hectic weeknight, it can be easy for even the most experienced home cook to think of vegetables last — an afterthought to a roasted chicken or pan-fried salmon. But whether you're spending extra time mastering an entrée or simply zapping leftovers in the microwave (pizza included!), a fresh side dish can transform a quick dinner into something seriously memorable. And not all healthy sides need to stop at roasted vegetables. There are plenty of grains that can make a better-for-you bowl feel so much more special, legumes and beans that can make dinner taste quite hearty, and elevated salad ideas that make greens seem like a revelation.
The best side dishes that are satisfying and healthy lean heavily on nutritional powerhouses that are full of fiber, helping you to feel even more satisfied, all while keeping you running until your next meal (or away from a dreaded midnight snack urge). Versatile staples like broccoli and zucchini are perfect options to soak in plenty of pan drippings and sauces, marrying the flavors of your plate du jour while packing in a punch of fiber. And delicate staples, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, transform a bowl of greens into a culinary work of art that comes together in just a few minutes (perfectly dressed, of course).
If you're looking to make a bowl of rice or pasta that you can feel good about, try focusing in on some of the grains featured in these recipes. You'll want to double down on quinoa, bulgur, or farro; even whole wheat pasta and gluten-free noodles can be smart options. These hearty bases can also play host to a myriad of vegetables that we simply can't get enough of. Follow along as we share our absolute favorite healthy side dishes that'll soon become your new weeknight hero.
You'll love how the crispy snap of the tender broccolini blends into the creamy profile of perfectly delicious white beans. Lemon zest and mustard come together in a zesty dressing that is perfect alongside seared salmon (even if it's just fresh out the pan!).
For a refreshing salad, look no further than this dynamite watermelon salad with feta and cucumber tossed in a super simple dressing.
Parsnips are a great source of fiber plus several vitamins and minerals, so adding them to your mash provides flavor and a hefty nutrient boost!
If you're lucky enough to be dining al fresco, a simple tomato salad can go a long way — and honey, oil, and vinegar is the 3-minute dressing of your dreams. Try alternating between cherry tomatoes and the tomato du jour if you're outside of the summer surplus season.
It's 100x easier to eat all of those crunchy greens when you toss 'em with smoked almonds, bright lemon and sweet cranberries.
A step up from sheet pan roasted veggies, grilling your farmer market's haul adds a new flavor that you can't capture indoors. Plus, these smoky flavors are brought to new heights with a tangy sweet vinaigrette (just an extra 20 calories or so!) that's textured with shallots.
Banish boring, bland green beans for good. The secret? Adding bacon, shallots, pecans and lemon zest riiiight before serving.
Grilled vegetables taste unapologetically more flavorful than their steamed counterparts. String squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, and broccoli onto a skewer before tossing on the grill (pan!) for easier, even cooking.
Looking to ditch those chips at lunch? These vitamin-packed carrot sticks are made new with a quick toss in herbs and spices and a dip into a pickle bath. A big batch will last up to 2 months in your fridge, and they'll make any sandwich that much more exciting.
Risotto is super luxe and feels like a treat, but our lighter take on this woody side dish ditches cream for low-sodium chicken broth. Alongside wine and fresh grated parm, these meaty mushrooms shine — and for vegetarians, could be a meal all on its own.
Get rid of that lingering bag of frozen peas by dressing it up with whole snap peas and sprigs of tarragon. The earthy undertones of each veg pairs nicely with a dressing made with a dash of mayonnaise, dijon mustard, lemon juice, a dollop of crème fraîche, which makes everything just a touch more exciting.
Radishes are super suave and peppery when they're in season, but many home cooks miss out on the opportunity to balance that profile out with salty goodness! Miso is the best addition to this colorful bowl of springy goodness.
We like to think of this as a super genius spin on a classic panzanella salad — made even healthier by swapping bread for quinoa. You'll also double down on soft cantaloupe and crunchy cucumber for dueling textures that work perfectly together.
Marinating summer squash is a great way to create a super savory bite that blends well into a bed of grains. Pasta salad lovers will appreciate that this side dish only contains less than 450 calories per serving but touts 14g of protein and 4g of fiber.
There's so much nutritional power found in farro, a rice alternative that is loaded with fiber and protein — as well as nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals, too. You'll love it as the base of this barrage of fennel and beans.
Have your pasta, and eat it, too — fitting pasta into your diet is easier when you cut the amount of noodles you eat with fresh veg instead. Here, we've made ratatouille that much more exciting by layering in linguine and fresh parmesan.
These savory-sweet squash slices taste so good, you'll forget you're eating vegetables for a second.
Replace pasta noodles AND flimsy salad with graceful, delicate ribbons of carrots and radishes. They take on the best elements of the vinaigrette that you'll whip together with fresh lemon and tart honey.
Did you know that your vegetable peeler can also make easy work of creating ribbons out of soft veg? These delicate additions to your quinoa bowl help to pack in more protein and fiber (20g and 14g, respectively) and our directions make enough for a table of 4.
Charring carrots on a grill can half the time you need to get them perfectly tender (about 10 minutes flat!). You'll spend the rest of your prep time creating a beautifully flavorful honey-based yogurt sauce that makes this humble root veg taste amazingly different.
Even if you're feeling lazy (hey, we've been there!), this super simple salad comes together in literally 5 minutes with some quick knife work. Olive oil and red wine vinegar do the heavy lifting for you.
Give your corn an instant upgrade with our recipe that includes a teaspoon of habañero hot sauce for a great kick.
Home cooks may not realize how amazingly easy it is to sauté spinach in a pan on the stovetop (we're talking 10 minutes, tops!). The key to bringing a velvety smooth finish to this superfood is tossing in a bit of your favorite olive oil, lemon, and garlic.
This salad has it all — crunchy beets, chopped cucumbers, radishes, arugula and mozzarella. You may just want to feature it for the main course.
Consider these crispy, crunchy spuds the lighter, lazier alternative to creamy mashed potatoes. No peeling or mashing whatsoever!
If you're meal-prepping your way through workday lunches, packing a compact salad for a sandwich or last night's leftovers can be tricky. This Mason jar solution is ingenious, as you prep a few batches on Monday or Tuesday and still enjoy them come Thursday or Friday.