Easy Swaps for Healthier Holiday Baking
by Amy Schlinger
The holiday season is upon us—and you know what that means: spending time with family and loved ones, exchanging gifts, and attending holiday parties. But let’s not forget the decadent dishes and desserts that punctuate the holiday season.
Of course, the holidays are a time to enjoy and indulge, but that doesn’t mean you have to send your health and fitness goals flying off the rails and into oblivion.
If you plan on doing any baking of your own this festive season, you’ll be glad to know there are some smart ways to not only minimize the caloric impact of your dishes, but even sneak in some stealthy health benefits.
To help you stay on course to finish the year strong, healthy, and fit, we spoke with expert registered dieticians and nutritionists for some healthy holiday baking swaps; your taste buds might not notice them, but your health, fitness, and waistline sure will.
Ready to get cooking? Preheat the oven and read on.
1. Swap Prune Puree for Sugar
It’s likely no shock to anyone that one of the biggest culprits in holiday desserts is sugar. But you’ll probably be surprised to learn that you can cut down on the sugar—and fat—content in chocolate cake, brownies, breads, or muffins with prune puree.
“If the recipe calls for one cup of sugar, you can use a ½ to ⅔ cup of sugar and a ⅓ to ½ cup of puree, and you’ll reduce the sugar by anywhere from a ½ to ⅓,” says Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., a sports nutritionist and owner of Active Eating Advice, based in Pittsburgh, PA.
Make the puree by taking 16 ounces of pitted prunes, adding to a blender or food processor, and pulsing with a ½ cup of hot water, Bonci explains.
“You can also reduce the fat by 50 percent by replacing half of the fat ingredient, like butter, with an equal amount of puree,” she says. “So, if the recipe calls for a ½ cup of butter, you can use a ¼ cup of butter and ¼ cup of puree instead.”
By swapping in the puree, you’ll also gain more vitamins (such as vitamin K), minerals (like potassium and polyphenols), and fiber.
2. Swap Greek Yogurt for Sour Cream
Break out this classic baking swap to add more protein and reduce fat if cheesecake, sour cream coffee cake, or shortcake biscuits are on the menu this holiday season.
This one is especially simple since sour cream and Greek yogurt have a similar taste, consistency, and appearance. Unlike sour cream, though, Greek yogurt boasts a nice protein punch (nearly five times more), which will contribute to satiety while also helping you hit your protein target for the day, explains Melanie Sulaver, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a New York-based sports nutritionist and the founder of Nutrition by Mel LLC.
“It is also lower in calories and fat for those looking to be thoughtful about their overall dietary intake,” she says. “In general, you can swap equal amounts of plain Greek yogurt for sour cream in a recipe and not much would change taste-wise.”
3. Swap Peanut Powder for Peanut Butter
If you’re a sucker for all things peanut butter, but you know how quickly the fat content can add up, consider this easy swap—especially if you love those peanut butter Hershey’s Kisses cookies!
“You can still get that peanutty flavor and lower the calories,” explains Bonci, who suggests using peanut powder as a coating to top a cake or other baked goods, or using it in place of your nut butter for a healthier version of the same savory taste in cookies, cakes, and other desserts.
“Two tablespoons of peanut powder will contain two grams of fat and eight grams of protein, while two tablespoons of peanut butter, meanwhile, will pack 17 grams of fat and seven grams of protein,” says Bonci. “For holiday baking, if the recipe calls for one cup of peanut butter, I would recommend using a ½ cup of peanut butter and one cup of peanut powder with a ¼ cup of water.”
4. Swap Pureed Cannellini Beans for Cream or Cheese
While many of us love cream and cheese, and many holiday baking recipes call for these ingredients, it’s not a surprise that their irresistibility has something to do with the fact that they aren’t necessarily the healthiest options.
Instead of using these dairy products, Bonci recommends swapping in pureed cannellini beans.
“The bean puree is great for adding thickness and texture to a quiche or frittata instead of using cream—without changing the taste; or you could even add it to mac and cheese to deliver the creaminess to the dish without any fat,” she explains. “Plus, you’ll increase the protein and fiber content, too.”
Cream and cheese have no fiber, while a ½ cup of beans packs four grams; and whereas cheese contains minimal protein, cannellini beans offer eight grams per ½ cup.
Bonus: They’re shelf stable, so you can stock up and they won’t go bad!
5. Swap Ground Flaxseed for Eggs
Eggs are nutritious, for sure, but they might not be the best option for those with high cholesterol. So, since numerous baking recipes tend to call for eggs, why not change things up with a healthier alternative, or what Sulaver refers to as a “flax egg.”
“Simply mix together one tablespoon of flaxseed meal with three tablespoons of water, place the mixture in the refrigerator for 10–15 minutes (until it thickens), and voila—you’ve got one flax egg,” she explains. “They’re a great substitute in recipes for dishes like pancakes, muffins, or waffles that call for eggs.”
A single “flax egg” is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, and also naturally vegan—so your dishes can be enjoyed by even more people this holiday season.