The best low-carb holiday side dishes

Low-carb. Ketogenic. Paleo. These popular ways of eating aren't just diet trends, they've become a dedicated lifestyle for people who want to cut down on sugar and carbohydrates for a wide variety of health reasons. If you count yourself as one of the many benefiting from a low-carb way of life, you don't need to give it all up to the perils of overindulgent holiday eating. Whether you're hosting a holiday feast at your home, assisting with the cooking at a relative's house, or bringing an item or two to your office potluck, you have plenty of options for low-carb holiday side dishes that will help you to avoid the carbohydrate bonanza that is so familiar on most holiday tables.

Cauliflower everything

Ask any low-carber, and they'll tell you that cauliflower is their BFF in the kitchen when it comes to churning out recipes that mimic the texture of beloved starches like rice, potatoes, and even tortillas and pizza crust. The key to most mashed or riced cauliflower dishes lies in the initial preparation of the cruciferous veggie, which must be drained of most of its natural water content before it can be deliciously riced or mashed.

For the simplest of recipes for mashed cauliflower, steam cauliflower florets for 15 minutes, drain all water, and mash as you would potatoes, adding cream, butter, salt, and pepper. For a more decadent, holiday-worthy treat, consider making a loaded cauliflower casserole, like this one from Real Housemoms. The cheesy sauce and crumbled bacon create a dish that will rival the best loaded baked potatoes. If you're looking for a particularly delicious cauliflower rice this holiday season, you can't go wrong with Jessica Gavin's low-carb cauliflower risotto. Her recipe is chock-full of healthy veggies and herbs like mushrooms, asparagus, and basil. Added bonus? Jessica also includes a super simple tutorial on how to properly prep riced cauliflower. If you want to skip this step, you can always buy it pre-riced.

Of course, if you're a cauliflower purist, nothing quite says it's a low-carb holiday like a whole roasted cauliflower. This one from the New York Times is served with an almond and herb sauce. Consider preparing it with an orange or purple cauliflower for a truly show-stopping presentation.

Vegetable pancakes, latkes, and fritters

Potato latkes are a Hanukkah tradition welcome on nearly any kind of holiday table, so you should be thrilled to hear that you don't need to forgo them entirely if you're embarking on a low-carb lifestyle. Non-traditional latkes and fritters are all the rage with low-carbers, with zucchini being a popular choice for creating these crispy morsels. For an excellent and delightfully simple recipe, try the Low Carb Maven's easy zucchini fritters, which substitute almond flour for carb-heavy white flour. For make-ahead ease, fry them the day before and reheat them in a pan to serve.

Looking to be a bit more adventurous with your veggie pancake recipe this holiday season? Consider Paleo OMG's clever broccoli fritter recipe, which employs the use of the sturdier broccoli stems. Running to the Kitchen's spaghetti squash latkes are spiced up with jalapeno and fried in coconut oil. Minnesota Monthly offers us this tasty version of latkes made with celery root and chickpea flour. Other low-carb veggies that fritter-ize well include daikon radish, rutabaga, and turnips.

Creamed spinach

While creamed spinach may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to low-carb holiday side dishes, many recipes actually include white flour as a binder, which can quickly jack up the carb content of your dish. This traditional recipe for creamed spinach from Tyler Florence omits the typical flour and milk roux found in so many versions for a classic mix of heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, and butter. For an even easier take, check out this recipe from Ruled Me that blends frozen, chopped spinach with cream cheese, sour cream, and spices.

You certainly aren't limited to spinach when it comes to creaming your veggies. Almost any leafy green you can imagine is elevated when hit with the creamy, cheesy goodness that is the hallmark of a decadent holiday side dish. Great ideas include creamed kale, creamed collard greens, and even creamed green cabbage.

Veggie purees

Nothing adds a touch of easy elegance to a holiday meal like a simple vegetable puree. While many recipes are combined with potato to achieve the desired texture, low-carb superstar cauliflower can lend you a hand in this department and also provide a way to enjoy the flavor of higher-carb veggies without the higher-carb content. Sweet carrots are tempered with cauliflower in this fabulous make-ahead recipe for carrot and cauliflower puree from Ina Garten. Alternatively, She Knows suggests whipping green peas with cauliflower, green onion, and mint for a gratifying holiday side.

Celery root, sometimes called celeriac or knob celery, is an often overlooked root vegetable from the produce department that is low in carbs for a root vegetable and purees beautifully. Check out this recipe for celery root puree from low-carb pioneers Atkins. This puree is destined for the holidays with its heavenly drizzle of truffle oil. Another surprisingly versatile veggie, daikon radish makes a fantastic puree when blended with browned balsamic butter and cream cheese.

Divine holiday veggies

So many vegetables enjoy a low enough carb count that they likely make up a large share of what you enjoy on a typical low-carb day. But don't the holidays call for something a little more special than your standard steamed broccoli or asparagus?

Brussels sprouts, those iconic veggies on so many holiday tables, are rendered positively divine over at Delish when roasted with bacon and garlic and finished with a balsamic vinegar and rosemary glaze. TheĀ New York Times suggests coating Brussels sprouts in a small amount of real maple syrup and topping them with freshly toasted hazelnuts for a toothsome holiday side sure to please almost any palate.

Roasted asparagus on its own is an everyday delight, but for the true holiday treatment, give it a salty and savory punch with the addition of crumbled prosciutto, freshly shaved Parmesan, and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts, like Katya does at Little Broken.

While the classic French recipe is typically presented as a more rustic mixture of veggies, an artfully presented, layered ratatouille will provide a wow factor sure to impress any dinner guest. The garlicky combination of tomato, bell peppers, and eggplant offers a beautiful and lighter option alongside your heavy holiday meal.

Cranberries

Anyone committed to a low-carb diet knows they need to be mindful of the natural sugar content of most fruit. Berries, due to their lower carb count and high fiber content, are a popular go-to when counting carbs, with holiday favorite cranberries earning a high score for their low count of 2 grams net carbs per ounce. Most cranberry recipes, however, are loaded with added sugars to sweeten the naturally tart taste.

For most cranberry sauce and relish recipes, switch out the added sugar for an equal amount of a sugar substitute like Splenda or Truvia, or go au naturale with a sweetener like stevia, xylitol, or monk fruit. If you really aim for some added holiday pizazz, try these delectable brandied cranberries from Carb Wars. (They'd also make for a fantastic DIY foodie holiday gift.)

Salads and slaws

Large, colorful salads are healthy for the body and also get a big thumbs-up from carb watchers. Added bonus: everyone at the table will welcome a lighter side on a day when the fare is typically heavy and rich. Here are a few ideas that will elevate your salad side beyond chopped iceberg lettuce with Italian dressing.

Cranberries, nuts, and blue cheese all work well with a low-carb diet, so try out this green salad with cranberry vinaigrette from All Recipes. The salad's colors will really pop on your holiday table. Another great salad featuring cranberries comes from Ina Garten and pairs roasted butternut squash with arugula and toasted walnuts dressed with a warm cider vinaigrette.

Holiday favorite Brussels sprouts shred beautifully for a refreshing addition to a chilled or room-temperature slaw. Consider Bon Appetit's Brussels sprout slaw with mustard dressing and maple-glazed pecans, which can be made a day ahead and dressed an hour before your meal. Fennel is another cold-weather vegetable that works well in a slaw, like this celery, apple, and fennel slaw from Epicurious that features a surprising kick of tarragon in the cider vinegar-based dressing.

Gratins

Though you may automatically associate the word "gratin" with potatoes, a gratin can actually be made with a wide variety of foods that have been cooked in a shallow dish and browned on top, typically with the addition of a fine layer of cheese and/or breadcrumbs. With a little imagination, a low-carb gratin can be a satisfying and drool-worthy star on your holiday plate.

No surprise here. Low-carb heavyweight cauliflower is an excellent choice for a gratin, and a popular combo is to prepare it with broccoli, though many recipes do include white flour in the sauce. Look for a recipe like this broccoli and cauliflower bake from Ditch the Carbs using tangy yogurt and rich egg yolks for the sauce, and is flavored throughout with diced bacon.

Turnips also make a great for a terrific gratin, as The Pioneer Woman shows us with her turnip gratin cooked with garlic, chicken broth, and heavy cream. For a low-carb gratin that really satisfies those carb cravings, try a spaghetti squash au gratin with bacon recipe. The sour cream and sharp cheddar cheese in the sauce will make it a side dish that everyone reaches for seconds of.

Stuffings and breads

Stuffing and bread. You know you want them, and you know you can't have them on a low-carb diet. Or can you?

Maria at Keto Adapted uses low-carb coconut flour, along with coconut oil and eggs, to make a mock cornbread that can stand alone or be used as the base for her sausage and mushroom-filled Paleo stuffing. All Day I Dream About Food brings us a low-carb, cheesy skillet bread made with almond flour and flaxseed meal that makes the perfect starter for spicy sausage and cheddar stuffing. You can even enjoy savory popovers while watching carbs, if you make them the way Scott and Tyo do at She Calls Me Hobbit, forgoing white flour for lower-carb arrowroot or chicory flour.

Want to enjoy stuffing this holiday without slaving over a homemade, low-carb bread recipe? There are plenty of low-carb, packaged bread options on the market, 11 of which have been reviewed over at Diabetes Daily. Pick your favorite to use in a traditional holiday stuffing recipe, and listen to the compliments roll in.