A napkin and silverware sit on a plate in the center of a table covered with autumnal, vegetarian dishes
(Image credit: VeselovaElena)

As the benefits of eating more vegetables and less meat have moved into the national spotlight, many Americans resolve to move toward a plant-based Thanksgiving meal. This can mean adding Thanksgiving vegetable dishes to a typical holiday meal or, more dramatically, replacing the holiday turkey with a plant-based main dish.

Either of these options can seem challenging initially, but over time the fresh vegetable dishes are likely to become beloved holiday traditions. And it’s a great idea for gardeners to grow some of these in your own backyard.

Typical American Thanksgiving… Plus

Unless all family members and Thanksgiving guests are vegetarian or vegan, the easiest way to increase the plant-based portion of a holiday meal is to add fresh vegetables ideas to a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

The typical American holiday meal includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread, cranberry sauce, and pie for dessert. The most popular holiday veggie dishes include green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole.

But that doesn’t mean that you are limited to these choices. By planning ahead, a gardener can plant, harvest, cook and serve vegetables from their own garden. These delicious, straight-from-the-garden vegetables are sure to delight all comers.

Best Thanksgiving Vegetables

The best vegetables to serve as part of the holiday meal are those that you grow in your own garden. But fresh veggies from a local farmer’s market can also work well if your crop isn’t quite large enough. Locally grown veggies aren’t shipped across the world to your supermarket, but are picked ripe and eaten soon after harvest, offering more nutrients and flavor.

Local produce available in late November includes all types of leafy greens – cool season crops – as well as carrots, broccoli, onions, garlic, beets, winter squash and sweet potatoes. You can also plant beans, corn, regular potatoes, and all kinds of spices. The exact side dishes will depend on what you opt to grow and serve.

One of our favorite festive vegetable dishes is among the easiest to prepare. And you can use whatever your garden happened to do best this year. Cut up a variety of fresh vegetables into similar size pieces, toss them in olive oil, then place them on a rack in the oven. Keep checking them and turning them for 10 minutes or so until they are roasty and caramelized.

Vegetables for Thanksgiving Feasts

If you decide to take the bigger step and opt for a plant-based main dish as well as vegetable sides, it pays to plan well in advance. Decide what you are going to serve in time to plant it.

Many find it best to use a large vegetable, like a whole winter squash or pumpkin, as the plant-based main dish for a Thanksgiving meal. You can stuff it with your favorite grains or cornbread-based stuffing and then roast it slowing to perfection. Another popular idea is to stuff a winter squash with a faux-meat product and season it with sage, thyme and rosemary. This is particularly delicious served with seitan and white beans.

A variation of the same theme is to roast a whole cauliflower flavored with spices, herbs, oils and a mix of seeds and nuts. This can be carved up just like a turkey. But a “heavy” vegetable like Brussel sprouts, roasted with honey and balsamic vinegar, is also delicious and impressive.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.