Holiday Baking: 6 Tips for Healthier Holiday Cookie Baking

Do you put healthy eating habits on the back burner during the holidays? When you hear the "Twelve Days of Christmas" you think the "Twelve Pounds of Christmas?" instead?

For most people, the holiday season is the most challenging time of year to stay on track with a healthy eating plan. But it doesn't have to be! 

Here are seven tips that can help you with one of the season’s temptations - holiday baking. I hope this helps you make better choices this holiday season!

1. Reduce the fat in your favorite recipes.

There are some simple substitutions for cookie recipes that will reduce the fat, yet keep the flavor. But these substitutions may not work for all recipes. Some low-fat and fat-free ingredients don’t stand up very well to heat; some have different amounts of water which can affect the texture of your cookies. Try using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour to help with cookie tenderness.

You’ll need to experiment a bit to get the best results – but it’ll be worth it!

Here are some substitutions to lower the fat (or the amount of saturated fat) in your favorite cookie recipes:

Instead of butter or margarine: use light butter, fat-free cream cheese, or even applesauce (you may need to reduce the amount of liquid elsewhere in the recipe).
Instead of shortening: use butter or margarine or light butter.
Instead of an egg: use an egg substitute (amount as indicated on label) or 2 egg whites.
Instead of chocolate chips: use mini-chocolate chips.
Instead of chocolate: use unsweetened cocoa powder (3 tablespoons for 1 oz. chocolate) and 1 tablespoon canola oil.
Instead of nuts: use crispy rice cereal.
Instead of peanut butter: use a reduced-fat peanut butter.
Instead of whole milk: use skim milk.2. Reduce the amount of sugar called for in your recipe by about one-third. This can often be done without affecting the taste or texture.

2. Use alternatives to granulated sugar. Here are some suggestions:

Honey. Use 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey in place of 1 cup sugar; reduce other liquid ingredients by about 2 tablespoons. Cookies made with honey will tend to brown faster.
Fruit juice concentrates. Use 3/4 cup of fruit juice concentrate (apple juice and orange juice concentrates are good) for every cup of white sugar; reduce other liquid ingredients by 3 tablespoons.
Molasses. Use 1-1/3 cups molasses for 1 cup sugar; reduce other liquid ingredients by about 5 tablespoons. Your cookies will look darker and may not taste as sweet.
Maple syrup. Use 3/4 cup maple syrup for 1 cup of white sugar; reduce other
liquid ingredients by 3 tablespoons.4. 
Use sugar-free substitutes. There are sugar-free versions of many popular products. If a recipe calls for jam or chocolate, for example, try using sugar-free versions.

3. Use artificial sweeteners with sugar. Notice I didn’t say use artificial sweeteners INSTEAD of sugar. You don’t want to eliminate sugar altogether, because it plays a vital role in keeping your cookies tender and moist. But you can use artificial sweeteners WITH sugar to reduce the amount of calories. For best results, try half-and-half (for example, if your recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of an artificial sweetener).

Artificial sweeteners that are suitable for baking include saccharine (Sweet and Low®); acesulfame potassium (Sunette® or Sweet One®); and sucrolose (Splenda®).

Aspartame (Equal® and Nutrasweet®) is not good for baking, but can be used in no-bake cookie recipes.

For all artificial sweeteners, be sure to read the label for sugar substitution tips.

Note that your cookies may tend to bake faster with some artificial sweeteners, so keep an eye on them.

4. Spray cookie/baking sheets lightly with vegetable cooking spray instead of greasing them with shortening or butter.

These suggestions will take some trial and error, but with a little experimentation and creativity, you can make your holiday cookie baking a healthier, yet still delicious tradition!
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