6 Ideas For Healthier Holiday Desserts

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The holidays are not a season for deprivation. With all of the indulgent savory and sweet dishes, it’s no wonder Americans tend to pack on the pounds between Christmas and New Year’s. The good news: Since you’re going to be cooking up festive confections to celebrate, you can easily opt for treats that are not only tasty but also nutritious.

No one’s saying you should avoid your favorite desserts at this time of year. Instead, Julie Fromm, registered dietitian with Henry Ford Health System, offers these tips to help you tweak your sweets so they contain significantly less sugar, fat and calories than their fattening cousins. From baked apples to Santa-hat brownies, there’s something for everyone at your holiday table.

  1. Serve miniaturize desserts. The reality is, you can eat any dessert you like—even the fat-laden ones—if you keep portions small enough. Fromm is fond of mini petit-fours, for example. Another genius idea is to serve rich desserts like mousses or puddings in shot-sized glasses.
  2. Focus on fruit. While a goblet of berries is a standout dessert, seasonal favorites, such as apples and pears, are easy to dress up for the holidays. Just core and slice your favorites (granny smith apples and bosc pears are classic holiday staples) and sprinkle the slices with cinnamon, nutmeg, rolled oats and chopped nuts. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and voila, dessert is served!
  3. Go bananas. Bananas’ starchy texture and sweet flavor make them a delicious dessert option. Slice them lengthwise and drizzle with chocolate or hazelnut sauce and top with chopped nuts. Better yet, pop those dressed up bananas in the freezer for a delectable frozen confection.
  4. Veg out. Sweet potato and pumpkin pie are standout desserts this time of year. The main benefit of these varieties, says Fromm, is they only have crust on the bottom. And let’s face it, the crust is where the bulk of pies’ less-healthy elements come from, with white flour and fat. Slim down the sweet veggie fillings by substituting unsweetened apple sauce for some of the sugar in your recipe. A bonus: any vegetable that is bright orange in color is packed with immune-boosting vitamin A.
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  5. Beef up baked desserts. You can make nearly any dessert recipe nutrient-rich by including ingredients such as black beans, spinach and kale blended into batter. Even finicky kids won’t be able to detect the un-dessert-like ingredients. A Fromm favorite is black-bean brownies dressed up with strawberry Santa hats. A bonus: The cocoa is loaded with powerful anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting compounds.
  6. Skip the whipped topping. One of the greatest dessert traps is whipped cream! The best advice is to skip it altogether, especially on already calorie-heavy coffee drinks. But if you can’t stomach the idea of foregoing the fluffy white goodness, keep portions to a minimum.

Part of the allure of holiday desserts is the nostalgia baking and decorating them offer. You might even consider using gingerbread and shortbread cookies as decorations instead of indulgences. Once they’re baked and cooled, you can use a variety of methods to preserve them as seasonal decorations.


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Julie Fromm, R.D., is a community dietitian with Henry Ford Health System’s Generation With Promise program, which focuses on empowering youth and families in the community to increase their consumption of healthy foods and physical activity and balance caloric intake.

Categories: EatWell