With end-of-the-year festivities right around the corner, baked goods and sweet treats are gathering—everywhere. Not to mention the full Thanksgiving and Christmas meal spreads on the way. To eat healthy during the holidays, is it a requirement to turn down every sweet offer? No! And let’s be honestthat’s extremely difficult to do. But it is important to be smart about what you consume.

“It’s not bad for you to eat a good quality dessert. But it should be a sparkle, it shouldn’t be a dinner of dessert,” says Chef Laura McCain, RD, and Munson Outpatient Nutritionist.

We’ve all been there and eaten a smaller meal so we could have an additional piece (or two) of pie afterward. Or, we’ve justified that extra slice because it’s fat-free or made with alternatives. We think we’re being healthy. But are we?

“A dessert is an item you don’t technically need. It’s a sparkly thing at the end of the meal,” Laura explains. When you’ve had a healthy balance of food throughout the day, your body recognizes the nutrients you’ve presented it, therefore it’ll take less to fill you up during the dessert portion of your meal.

“Go out and buy the most expensive bonbon there is and savor the moment,” she says. Instead of eating fat-free desserts, Laura says desserts made with the nicest quality items are more satiating. For example, “Cheap chocolate tends to be something people will just eat a bunch of, and at the end of the day they end up with way more calories [than they need].”

Laura’s 3 Tips for Healthy Baking

Looking for the homemade touch? Use real butter.

Laura’s tip: “If you bake, bake with the nicest quality items that you can. Use real butter, use the different sugars, just make the portions small.

“You don’t want the sparkle to be made by something that isn’t real. I don’t want to swallow chemicals. The stuff my grandma would recognize, that’s the stuff I eat.”

Looking for something different? Try the European route of an assortment of ripe pears and different cheeses.

“[Dessert] doesn’t have to be something packed with added sugars,” Laura says. The uniqueness of comparing and contrasting different foods adds an element to the end of the meal. Plus, there’s something really luscious about eating pears.”

Looking for the American tradition? There’s a way to have your cake and eat it, too.

Laura’s most-recommended option is to eat smaller amounts of the real thing. “Eat a small portion of something really really good and savor the moment.”

Baking Substitutions

If you want to try substituting ingredients for healthier options, there are some alternatives. So, what’s good? What’s bad?

Nuts and seeds: Good.
“Nuts and seeds are really healthy to put into things,” Laura says. 

Oil: Good.
“There are some really good Mediterranean cakes made with olive oil!”

Applesauce: Only if it’s to replace hydrogenated fats.
“When you pull out the fat and replace it with applesauce, it’s not that much different in calorie content and it’s probably not going to be that much more satiating.”

Hydrogenated fats (ie. Crisco Shortening): Bad.
“Don’t use these chemically-altered oils. They are so stiff that they’re not good for your vascular system; they clog you up.”

Margarine: Bad.
“I use butter, I use olive oil. I might use a little grapeseed oil, but for the most part, the majority of my fat is olive oil and a little butter. The real stuff. The old stuff.”

Laura’s Cookie Recipe

Making slight adjustments to the cookie recipe on the back of chocolate chip bags¼ cup less butter plus whole wheat flour and wheat germ instead of all-purpose flourLaura shares her favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (her daughters love it, too)!

  • ¾ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 local eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup wheat germ
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together butter, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift together flour, wheat germ, soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture, mixing until well blended. Fold in semi-sweet chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by level measuring tablespoon about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 5 dozen 3-inch cookies.

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Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski