Christmas time is full of cookies, rich food and hot chocolate. It is hard not to indulge in these seasonal favourites, but there is a way you can make them healthier. Many ingredients can be swapped in your favourite recipe for a healthier cookie, side dish and hot cocoa without compromising on flavour.
Sweets and Baked Treats...
Flour, sugar and butter are the three main components to any cookie recipe. Instead of using white flour, substitute it with whole wheat or the ancient grain Spelt flour for extra fibre. These flours work great in gingerbread cookies, cakes and loaves. Need to make it low carb? Use almond flour which is high in protein and healthy fats. Coconut flour is also a great option and works well in combination with the almond flour to create the right texture. Buckwheat flour is a gluten-free flour option high in fibre with a mild earthy taste that makes a nutritious change from the classic white rice gluten-free flour blends. Have a vegan or egg allergy in the family? Making a flax egg from 1 tablespoon ground flax to 3 tablespoons water binds batter just as well as an egg. Allow the flax egg to sit for 10-15 minutes to gel before using in your recipe.
When a recipe calls for sugar, there are more options than just going for the white stuff. And no, brown sugar is not a healthier option, it is just white sugar with molasses added. A healthier sugar option is organic coconut palm sugar which is an unrefined and unbleached sugar that contains all of its vitamins and minerals and has a rich caramel flavour. Raw honey and pure maple syrup can be used in place of white sugar as well and contain essential vitamins and minerals. Be sure to adjust liquids when using a liquid sweetener.
A healthy butter swap in baking would be to use grass-fed butter which contains many healthy fats and nutrients that are not found in conventional butter. If you are trying to reduce the butter use in your baking, other healthy options include nut butters that are packed with good fats and protein or coconut oil which has a similar consistency to butter.
Time to talk about flavour extracts. Many extracts are artificially flavoured and contain colour additives and preservatives to look like the real deal. Read ingredients thoroughly to ensure your extracts are pure to avoid artificial ingredients in your homemade baking.
Brunches and Dinners...
The primary way to make your Christmas brunch or dinner healthier is to make everything from scratch. It may be convenient to buy frozen hash browns for your hash brown casserole instead of chopping up your own potatoes; however, many unhealthy oils and additives can be avoided by taking this extra step. Mix up your own pancakes or waffles instead of using a premade mix that may contain artificial flavours and preservatives. Try out some of the fibre and protein-packed flours listed above for your pancakes or waffles and use fresh fruit for topping instead of canned which are filled with syrups and sugar.
Make your turkey dinner stuffing healthy and delicious by slicing up your own organic sourdough or sprouted grain bread croutons instead of using the typical white bread croutons. And don’t forget the cranberry sauce! This is the simplest condiment to make with only 3 ingredients and takes just minutes to whip up. Making your own cranberry sauce allows you to use whichever natural sweeteners you prefer and it tastes much better too!
Sipping Hot Chocolate by the Fire…
Dark chocolate is good for you, but, when you have it loaded with sugar and topped with aerosol whipped cream, not so much. Healthy hot chocolate can be made with raw cocoa powder (cacao), coconut palm sugar (or other natural sweeteners), and vanilla mixed into your milk or a non-dairy beverage of choice. Voila! An antioxidant dense, nutrient-rich hot drink. Or, to make the holidays simple, find an organic mix with simple ingredients that are low in sugar. Top with homemade whip cream made from grass-fed cream or full-fat coconut milk. What about a Christmas turmeric latte in the evening instead? End the night with this anti-inflammatory brew mixed with some ginger to ease digestion. That can be a new tradition, right?
Enjoying the Christmas season to the fullest does not mean we have to let our healthy living efforts go entirely. Swap unhealthy ingredients for whole food ones and savour the flavours of the season instead of devouring them. If you slip away from your healthy eating habits to enjoy a party with friends and family, don’t feel guilty. Pick up your regular healthy eating habits right where you left off. This season only comes once a year. Be Merry. Be Well.
UNFI Canada Healthy Holiday Baking