Holiday Cookies Made Healthier

A Guest Post by Nurture Intern Radoslava “Radka” Pribyl Pierdinock with support from Nurture food committee chair Julia Goodhouse.

It is officially the holiday season, a time when we spend extra time baking and cooking for our loved ones! As the holidays get closer and closer, chaos in the kitchen rises exponentially in my household. Cookie cutters always clutter the countertops and sprinkles are spread across the table. Baking is such a special part of the holidays that in my household we have one day designated towards making holiday treats for our friends and family. Never am I one to frown upon a holiday cookie, so don’t even think I’d want to spoil any of the holiday spirit around eating and being merry, but I do have some ideas about how to sprinkle some healthier options into your baked goods. These tips will make your treats healthier and also will have the same delicious taste!

  1. Include nuts for great nutrition. Assuming that you have no nut allergy issues in your family, nuts are great for you. Great things can be done with nuts in baking beyond just adding whole nuts to baking mixes. My favorite nut is the almond. 90 percent of the fats in almonds are unsaturated and the nuts are high in protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and other antioxidants. Almonds help prevent osteoporosis and they regulate blood pressure. What I do with almonds in baking:
  • substitute some almond flour (ground almond meal) for regular flour in recipes
  • make pie crusts (made from almond flour they are especially delicious)
  • add almond butter to cookie or bar recipes (substitute a little for regular butter)

Even though almonds are my favorite, I don’t mean to take away from all the other good nuts like cashews, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts.  All of the above suggestions can be made with any kind of nuts.  To make nut flour, you can grind nuts yourself or buy prepackaged nut flour.  You can make nut butters in a Cuisinart or you can buy them in jars. (For those of you that are wondering about peanuts; technically they are not nuts; they are legumes).

  1. Experiment with different flours.  If you see “flour” in your recipe, you should not have to feel limited to white flour. Whole wheat flour, brown rice flour, barley flour, millet flour, spelt flour, rye flour, and oat flour (make your own by processing whole rolled oats in your Cuisinart) all add interesting subtle flavors. Other more exotic flours include teff flour and amaranth flour.  Some bakers feel that you can substitute only up to half of the white flour with other flours without dramatically changing the results, but I often substitute all of it. Some of my favorite substitutions are:
  •  rye flour for pancakes
  • oat flour for cookies (creates a moist cookie)
  • millet and brown rice flour are low allergenic and do not have a strong flavor. They can be a little dry, so mix with moist ingredients like applesauce or nut butter.
  1. Avoid trans fats (cake/ brownie mixes, prepared dough, shortening). Most trans fats are formed industrially, mixing hydrogen with vegetable oil. This combination ultimately increases the shelf life of food products. Although trans fat decreases the time it takes for a perishable item to spoil, it is the worst type of fat you can eat! Trans fat decreases your HDL(“good”) cholesterol and increases your LDL(‘bad”) cholesterol. Consuming a diet that incorporates trans fat leads to an increased risk of heart disease.
  2. Reduce sugar.  Added sugars offer limited nutritional value to your diet and only add extra unwanted calories. Consuming a diet with lots of added sugars from food not only leads you to miss out on crucial vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, but also aids tooth decay, promotes weight gain, and increases triglycerides. Try cutting your recipe’s sugar amount by a third or in half.  You may be able to reduce the amount of sugar slowly over time, and your kids might not even know the difference!  Give it a try! You can do this with all your favorite recipes.

I encourage you to try to incorporate some or all of these tips at your next holiday cookie party! Wishing you and your family a healthy and happy holiday season!

If you’re looking for some recipes to start with and apply the tips above, here are two “sweet treat” cookie recipes from Make Everything Fun:
Chocolate Chip cookies
Holiday cookies (Elena cookies)

Sources:

(1)        Eating Well for Optimal Health.  Dr. Andrew Weil.  pp-193-194.

(2)       Mayo Clinic Staff. “Don’t Get Sabotaged by Added Sugar.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo      Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 30 Jan. 2019.

(3)       Mayo Clinic Staff. “Trans Fat: Double Trouble for Your Heart.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo   Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 Feb. 2020,

(4)       Natural Health, Natural Medicine.  Dr. Andrew Weil.  pp-55-56.

Learn more about Nurture and our work with children and families to improve nutrition and health.

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