3 Salads for Your Holiday Dinner

The holidays are here and I couldn’t be more excited. Every year, we spend Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve with my husband’s family up in his hometown and then Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve with my family in our current home city. It’s a wonderful time of the year filled with family, photos, and fun. And of course, between big meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas day, a lot of food.

Like I mentioned in my post How I Dropped 5% Body Fat Over The Holidays, one of my strategies in keeping a little nutritional balance at family gatherings is bringing a couple of healthy dishes. I almost always make one of those a big, flavorful salad. Starting the meal with a bowl of salad helps me have a little more self-control so that I don’t over-stuff myself too much as I enjoy all the other great holiday dishes. It also ensures that I will have a healthy leftover to bring home with me so I’m not just living off of fatty or sugary foods the rest of the week.

And trust me, if you’re making it correctly, a salad is not a dull side dish. For years, I’ve been bringing my own various salad recipes to parties and family gatherings and coming home with an empty dish. The key to a zazzy party salad is knowing how to layer together a variety of textures and flavors to wow people’s taste buds. So this week, I’m rounding up three salad recipes guaranteed to please at any of your holiday gatherings throughout the season.

Apple Pecan Salad

If you haven’t been pairing crisp, juicy apples with crunchy pecans and goat cheese, you haven’t truly been living. It’s sweet. It’s salty. It’s nutty and cheesy and magnificent. It belongs on your fork and in your heart.

This is one of my favorite bright and fruity salads and just so happens to be the one I am preparing to bring with me to Thanksgiving this year,

I like either a very sweet or slightly tart apple in my salads. It packs just the right kind of zing wake up those taste buds and shake some life into that palate. If you don’t have Honey Crisp apples on hand, a Fuji or Gala apple will kindly suffice (maybe a Granny Smith if you’re a big fan of tartness).

The Apple Pecan Salad


  • 3 Honey Crisp apples, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3-4 cups of kale, very finely chopped (can substitute romaine lettuce)
  • 1 Cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 Cup of dried cranberries
  • 1 Cup Tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
  • Your favorite light vinaigrette dressing

Okay, are you ready for this? I hope you are. It honestly takes years of culinary training, rigid focus and possibly the comfort of an emotional support animal to master this kind of a recipe. Here we go.

Pour the kale into a large bowl. Layer over it with the chopped apples, pecans, cranberries, and goat cheese. Drizzle over everything with the vinaigrette and enjoy. (Hug your emotional support animal between steps as needed.)

If you’re preparing the day before a dinner or get together, hold off on adding the nuts, cheese, and dressing until right before serving. You can also consider setting these components in small dishes on the side so that guests can add nuts and cheese as needed, just in case anyone has a food allergy or sensitivity.

Butternut Squash Salad

I’ve seen it disappear in a hurry when I’ve made it for parties and family get-togethers in the past. It’s simple. Tasteful. And simply packed with superfood ingredients. 

It’s great on its own or rolled into a whole wheat wrap the next day for a quick lunch on the go. With vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fat, protein and complex carbs, it will help you power through your day with pizzazz.

The Butternut Squash Salad


  • 1 Medium butternut squash
  • 1//2 Cup Long grain brown rice (or Jasmine rice for gluten sensitivity)
  • 1/2 Cup Quinoa
  • 2 Cups of water
  • 4 Cups kale, very finely chopped (can substitute romaine lettuce)
  • 4 Cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 Vegetable bullion cubes (or chicken/beef bullion cubes)
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Container reduced fat feta cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Your favorite light vinaigrette dressing

The Squash

Halve the squash, deseed and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and 2 cloves of garlic. Bake at 400° for 45-60 minutes. Once finished, allow to cool before peeling away skin and slicing the squash into cubes. If you like your squash a little toasty, coat a baking pan with cooking spray and bake at 350° for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until cubes are a slight golden brown. (Feel free to work on the rest of the recipe while squash is initially baking, or even cook and cube the squash the night before.)

The Grains

Brown rice and quinoa have slightly different cooking times so you may want to prepare them separately. (Although I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t cooked them together many a time when crunched for time in the past; it hasn’t killed anyone thus far, so I have zero regrets on the matter.) If you don’t have time or patience for both the rice and the quinoa, you can just stick with the quinoa since it’s both a complex carb and a complete protein.

Quinoa needs to be very thoroughly rinsed before cooking to remove its natural coating of saponin, or it will retain a bitter taste after cooking. I like using a fine mesh straining bag to rinse it, but you can also line a regular strainer with cheesecloth or a thin dish towel to get the job done (and don’t be afraid to get in there with your hands to mix it around to make sure it’s good and clean).

Put rinsed quinoa in a pot and add one cup of water, one clove of minced garlic, one vegetable bouillon cube and salt and pepper to taste (this will add an extra layer of flavor for your salad). Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat, cover with a lid and allow to continue cooking another 15 minutes (until water is absorbed). Remove lid and allow to rest off heat for another five minutes before fluffing with a fork.

For brown rice, you don’t need to rinse it but will otherwise repeat the same steps for cooking it as the quinoa. But allow it to cook about 20 minutes on a lower heat (until water is absorbed) and allow the rice to rest afterward 10-20 minutes off heat with the lid on. If you like your rice a little crunchier, you can rest it a shorter length of time, if you like it chewier, rest a little longer.

Tying it all together

Once you have all the components ready, just layer them together in a serving dish and you’re ready to go! Kale first, followed by an even coating of rice, quinoa, butternut squash and feta cheese. Use your judgment with the cheese; you probably won’t need the entire container, just a nice even sprinkling.

If you’re preparing the day before a dinner or get together, hold off on adding the nuts, cheese, and dressing until right before serving. You can also consider setting these components in small dishes on the side so that guests can add nuts and cheese as needed, just in case anyone has a food allergy or sensitivity.

 Roasted Pumpkin Salad

Because who said pumpkins can only go in pies? Impress your friends and family this Thanksgiving by showing them the savory side of the pumpkin. This salad is the ultimate flavor combination, tastefully weaving together sweet, sharp and salty components into each craveable bite.

I actually brought this salad with me to Thanksgiving last year, and I can tell you, it was a hit. If you are making it the night before Thanksgiving, hold off on adding the cheese and the walnuts until the last minute before serving. Also, consider just setting the cheese in a little side dish to give folks the option of adding it themselves (especially since blue cheese has a stronger flavor. If you want to give people a couple cheese options, you can’t go wrong by throwing in a second little cheese bowl with a different type of cheese!

The Roasted Pumpkin Salad


  • 3-4 Cups of kale, very finely chopped (can substitute romaine lettuce)
  • 1 Small pie pumpkin
  • 1/4 Cup crasins
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup chopped walnuts (depending on your optimal crunchiness level)
  • 1/2 Cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Coconut oil or coconut cooking spray
  • 1/2 Cup quinoa
  • 1 Cup vegetable stock
  • 1 Vegetable bullion cubes (can substitute chicken/beef bullion)
  • Your favorite light vinaigrette dressing

The Pumpkin

Cut off the top of the pumpkin and de-seed. Use a veggie peeler to de-skin the pumpkin and then chop the flesh into bite-sized cubes. Place your pumpkin cubes on a baking tray and lightly drizzle with coconut oil, followed by an even dusting of garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bake at 350°F  for 10-20 minutes (depending on the size of your cubes), or until golden brown. (Once again, feel free to work on the rest of the recipe while squash is initially baking, or even cook and cube the squash the night before.)

The Quinoa

Like mentioned in the Butternut Squash Salad, the Quinoa needs to be very well rinsed before cooking. Use a fine mesh straining bag (or a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth or a clean, thin dish towel) to rinse it thoroughly a few times. Then combine quinoa, vegetable stock and bouillon cube in a pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Lower the heat and cover with a lid, letting it cook another 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and quinoa is light and fluffy. Remove from heat.

Tying It All Together

In a serving dish, toss together kale, craisins, walnuts.  Add the quinoa, the pumpkin cubes and blue cheese. Drizzle with you dressing and enjoy!

Looking For More Healthy Side Dish Ideas?

If you’re looking for a few extra healthy, tasty side dish additions to throw in with your holiday meal, look no further.

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

Easy Spaghetti Squash

Southernly Savory Roasted Onions

Happy Holiday Feasting!

All writing and images copyright © 2018 Rachel Elise Weems Woods

25 thoughts on “3 Salads for Your Holiday Dinner”

  1. I love spaghetti squash so I am all over it. The apple, pecan salad is one of my favorites. After Thanksgiving, I plan on eating tons of salad to help with a no weight gain holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My gosh all the salads look so good. They also seem like perfect salads for fall in addition to Thanksgiving. I think you could add goat cheese and cranberries to anything and make it better, so I’m partial to the Apple pecan salad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are very interesting salads, and they do look pretty good! I have never had any of these salads in my life, sadly, but would like to try them someday. In one of your recipes, it says you can substitute romaine lettuce, but unfortunately here in the States the news has been telling people NOT to eat romaine lettuce because it may be tainted with ecoli bacteria. Hopefully, this recall/warning won’t last for long though! I also like the idea of using pumpkin in salads, since it has a savory taste.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, if only someone can pass me the apple pecan salad! I would love to try that! All three of the recipes seem very simple and easy to make- perfect for the holiday season! Thanks for sharing all of them!

    Liked by 1 person

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