Healthy Side Dishes For All: Vegan, Paleo and Gluten Free

Are you gathering with family and friends in person for the holidays this year? As we carefully make our way to a new normal, some old familiar challenges are back, namely how to make a delicious, (reasonably) healthy holiday meal that meets everyone’s dietary needs. Your daughter is a vegan but her girlfriend is gluten-free. Uncle Greg is vegetarian but allergic to nuts and eggs, you’re trying to eat a paleo diet and your son has just announced he’s going keto but you’re not sure if it’s different than paleo? 

It may come as a surprise, but it’s entirely possible to please everyone in this scenario, just don’t expect each guest to eat everything on the table. With a little planning and flexibility, and an air-tight shopping list you need not worry!

First things first, let’s define our terms.

Keto. The idea is to get more calories from protein and fat and less from carbohydrates. You cut back most on the carbs that are easy to digest, like sugar, soda, pastries, and white bread. It’s in high fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. Other foods a keto dieter avoids are peas, bananas, honey baked or glazed ham, margarine, beer, sweet potatoes and dairy milk. 

Paleo. This diet is meant to recreate the sort of meals that may have been eaten about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic era. This means foods that became accessible when farming technology emerged are off-limits. Paleo diet afficionados stick with foods that ostensibly could be gotten by hunting and gathering.

Vegetarian. According to the Vegetarian Society, a vegetarian is someone who does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish, or by-products of animal slaughter. (1) Vegetarian diets contain various levels of fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts, and seeds. Some vegetarians do eat dairy products (lacto-vegetarianism) or eggs (ovo-vegetarianism) or both (ovo-lacto-vegetarianism).

Vegan. defines veganism like this: A vegan diet includes no animal products. Animal products can mean anything from meat (including fish), cheese, eggs, honey, and gelatin (a food ingredient obtained by boiling the skin, bones, or tendons of animals). If a food is made by or out of an animal, it’s not vegan.

Gluten free. Gluten is found in grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale. People who are gluten-free don’t eat foods containing gluten, which is in many foods. Eating a gluten-free diet helps people manage symptoms of celiac disease and other medical conditions, such as allergies, associated with gluten. This type of diet also has gained popularity among people without gluten-related medical conditions. Enthusiasts of this diet suggest it yields improved health, weight loss and increased energy. 

Now that we’re all clear, let’s work out some side dishes.


Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes, if you mash them with olive oil and garlic instead of butter, will work for vegan, vegetarian and gluten free folks. Olive oil is also a healthier choice than butter. Here’s a great (simple) recipe from The New York Times:


  • 2 pounds yellow fleshed potatoes, like Yukon Gold or German Butterball, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks 
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled 
  • Salt 
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil 

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add potatoes, garlic and 2 teaspoons salt and cook at a brisk simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Drain potatoes and garlic, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Mash potatoes and garlic. Beat in olive oil and then thin to desired consistency with reserved cooking liquid. Check seasoning and serve.


Grain Free Stuffing

Grain free stuffing/dressing will work for gluten free and keto folks, and if you use vegetable broth, it’s also vegetarian. You can leave the eggs out as well and it becomes vegan. Substitute pepitas for pecans and your uncle’s nut allergy is covered.


  • 1 loaf grain free sandwich bread, or gluten free bread of choice, cut into small cubes 
  • 2 T olive oil 
  • 1 cup minced onions or shallots 
  • 1 head of celery, about 2 cups, chopped small 
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries 
  • 1 cup raw pecans, roughly chopped 
  • 1/4 t fine sea salt 
  • 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 1/2 T herbs de Provence spice mix 
  • 2 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 3 large eggs, beaten (omit for vegan)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease or spray a 7.5″x11″ baking pan and set aside. 
  2. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a dry cookie sheet or large baking pan. Bake them for 30 minutes until deep golden and very dry. Set them aside to cool. 
  3. Preheat the oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the celery. Toss several times until celery has softened, then add the cranberries, pecans, salt, pepper and herbs de Provence. Mix thoroughly. Cook for 3-4 more minutes. 
  4. Transfer the cooled bread cubes to a large mixing bowl. Pour the onion-celery-herb mixture over the bread and gently fold them together. 
  5. Whisk together the chicken broth and beaten eggs, then pour the broth-egg mixture over the bread mixture and toss to combine. 
  6. Turn the stuffing into the prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer. Don’t worry if there is a little extra liquid; make sure that gets into the baking pan, too.  
  7. Bake for 45-60 minutes until crispy and golden on top and no liquid remains at the bottom of the pan.


Low-carb Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Here’s a side that works for everyone: Keto, paleo, vegan, gluten free and vegetarian. It’s a crowd pleaser! Roasted brussels sprouts are delicious, easy to make and make great leftovers.   

  • 1 ½  pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 t black pepper, or to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and put a sheet pan while it heats. You want a hot pan. Toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil and pour them into the heated pan in an even layer, flat side down. Roast them for 25-30 minutes, until they’re nicely browned but not burned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.


Homemade Fried Onions

  • 1 large onion, sliced in half and then cut into one-inch slices
  • 2 T ghee
  • 2 T avocado oil or coconut oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 T tapioca flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour or fine almond flour
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1/2 t paprika


  1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9×13 in casserole dish. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the green beans and boil for 5 minutes until crisp tender. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat up the tbsp of ghee in a large skillet. Add in diced onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Saute and let them cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have sweat off some of their liquid. Add in the sherry (if using) and use a spoon to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add in the chicken broth, thyme, and sea salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Let it simmer while you make the coconut cashew cream.
  3. Combine the coconut milk, cashews, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of water in a blender. Blend on high for 1 minute until very thick and creamy.
  4. Pour the cream into the pan and stir for 1-2 minutes. It should thicken fairly quickly. Taste it to see if you want to add more salt. You can use the sauce as-is or use an immersion blender to break down the mushrooms a bit. It is up to you!
  5. Add green beans to the casserole dish and pour the mushroom sauce on top. Stir to combine. Bake for 20 minutes. 
  6. Make the fried onions (if not using store-bought): Beat eggs in a shallow dish. Add tapioca flour, coconut (or almond) flour, garlic powder, salt, and paprika to a separate shallow dish and stir to combine. Heat the ghee + cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dip the onion pieces into the egg, and then into the flour mixture to coat. Fry them for 2-3 minutes each side or until they are browned to your liking. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Work in batches until all onion pieces have been fried.
  7. When the timer goes off, add the fried onions to the top of the casserole, bake for an additional 10 minutes and serve.


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