Plant-Based Diet: How to optimize your side dishes

A few weeks ago, we (as in myself, another dietitian, and our chef at the hospital) finished up our plant-based diet series on WZZM 13. We capped off the series with strategies for optimizing side dishes. In other words, how to make side dishes as nutritionally dense as possible. On average, at least 75% of Americans do not consume enough fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Therefore, when it comes to following a plant-based diet, here are a few guidelines to follow to get the most antioxidant-packed side dishes.

Purchase what’s in season.

Buying produce that is in season or grown locally will not only taste better, but often save you money. What’s in season right now (winter) in West Michigan?

  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Kale
  • Garlic
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Clementines
  • Grapefruit

Buy locally at the Fulton Street Market on Saturday mornings or at the Downtown Market. Kingma’s Market also features produce and protein from local Michigan farms.


Use a combination of pre-cut and fresh ingredients to save time.

Many of my patients find the idea of cutting a whole butternut squash a little daunting and as a result, they often just avoid it. No need! Science is an amazing thing and nowadays there is pre-cut butternut squash along with other vegetables in the produce section. Short on time? Buy a combination of pre-cut and whole, raw vegetables to create a healthy dinner without “slaving” in the kitchen. Note: Pre-cut vegetables tend to break down quicker so be sure to use them within a couple days of purchase. Really, really short on time? Use frozen, cubed butternut squash. You may sacrifice a little flavor, but nothing a little additional seasoning can’t fix. If buying frozen, avoid any frozen vegetables that come with added sauces.


Aim for at least 3 fruits and/or vegetables in one dish.

The key to reducing your risk of chronic disease and cancer is variety! The more variety, the more likely you are to get a broader spectrum of antioxidants and nutrients. By including at least 3 fruits and/or vegetables in a side or main dish, you really pack in the maximum antioxidant and phytochemical power. An easy way to do this is utilizing one-sheet pans! They save on so much time and are perfect for a quick and healthy weeknight dinner.


Try these options below for some of my favorite go-to plant-based side dishes. Keep in mind, any of these can easily be made into an entree by adding a protein (chicken, beef, pork, lentils, beans, tofu, etc.)

Be sure to check out the WZZM 13 visual guide here 🙂