Healthy Desserts for the Holidays
There are a few points of temptation every year where the healthy habits we try to cultivate are especially challenged. The holidays are definitely some of the worst offenders, and holiday desserts–like baked apple crisp à la mode, “death by chocolate,” and full trays of freshly-frosted cookies–can make healthy choices very difficult.
If you don’t give a Christmas fig and just want all the pie this holiday season, we’re not going to stop you from living your best life. But if you, like many of us, know you will regret that extra slice; here are some ways to handle this particular holiday hurdle.
A common mistake when we want to live healthier is to try and change everything at once. We make grandiose plans about “never eating sugar again!”, and they’re very difficult to follow up on. Instead of having cold turkey with your Christmas ham, there are plenty of methods for eating in moderation. Sweet fruit, for example, is full of natural sugars and can replace cups of processed sugar. A blackberry tart or candied orange peel will burst with just as much flavor as the traditional heavy, holiday fare.
Cream is another common culprit in calorically-heavy desserts, often ratcheting up the fat content to levels far beyond what anyone would reasonably expect. Choosing non-dairy alternatives can make holiday feasts a little easier on your stomach. Your favorite almond, oat, or similar non-milk can be substituted into most recipes.
If you want to get a little more adventurous while staying natural, snacks like roasted pumpkin seeds (try them with cinnamon and brown sugar!) made with any left-over, uncarved pumpkins make a healthy alternative to dishes loaded with butter. Winter feasts are also a good time to experiment with simple recipes that use natural ingredients you may otherwise ignore, like sesame seed candy.
You can also explore your own or other cultures’ sweets this season, which typically have a longer and more natural history than the stereotypical American dessert. Check out red bean buns or healthy baklava as examples. If you’re not looking for that level of diversity in your cooking but still want to balance out the effects of a big family dinner, naturally supplementing your diet might help.
Reevaluate What Makes Food Healthy
We tend to beat ourselves up over that second piece of pie, the one we debated if we should have or not before giving in. Progress is not linear, and if you are actively making things harder on yourself while trying to improve, it will be easier to fall into comfort-eating and other less-healthy choices. Plus, a lot of what we villainize (like sugar and carbs) is natural fuel and necessary to our survival, and the true key is “everything in moderation.”
Even so, the healthiest of us can still overeat when the table is full of delicious goodies. Removing ourselves from the situation, either by being the first to get up and clean dishes or by being the one to bring a healthy alternative dessert, are great options. However, if you feel that your relationship with food is out of control, talking it over with a professional can help practice breaking the bad habits many of us are taught from a young age.
Easy Improvements You Can Make
That said, there have to be limits somewhere. When a dessert has too many carbs or grams of sugar, it might not be worth the trouble. There are three main methods to imposing said limits. The first is to buy all low-cal, low-salt, low-sugar, and so on versions of meals or ingredients. This is an easy habit to maintain once you get used to it, and often does not affect taste.
The second is ingredient swaps, as we mentioned above with non-dairy cream alternatives. Check out your local farmer’s market, if it is in season, or use a service such as Imperfect Foods for fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste. You can find all manner of uncommon natural substitutes in such places. Lion’s mane mushroom steaks might not make a good dessert, but candied squash can be a healthy option!
The third method is to simply have less of a dessert you cannot resist. Split it into multiple servings and put away leftovers before taking a bite, or share half with family or your neighbors in the spirit of the season of giving.
A cooking class, locally or online through an app like Udemy, will take your skills up a notch; but just a few simple tips can make all the difference. For example, you would be hard-pressed to convince someone that vegetables can be a dessert–but they can! Unfortunately, many peoples’ experience with veggies is soggy boiled broccoli or brussel sprouts served with unseasoned chicken and starchy rice. Maybe your experience isn’t quite that dismal, but a lot of minds are blown when they try roasted veggies for the first time. Throw on some honey, a squirt of lemon, and sesame seeds while they bake in the oven, and you have an absolutely scrumptious treat. It might not fully replace dessert, but it can pave the way for fewer cravings and ease the transition to ending dinner on a healthier note.
As Promised: a Healthy, Natural Dessert Recipe!
If veggies after dinner aren’t your thing, we’re sure this will be. Chia seed pudding is great as a breakfast bowl, snack, or healthy dessert. Topping options are endless and can suit your tastes, from juicy mixed berries to a dusting of cinnamon over honey.
The following recipe can be read in greater detail here. It is easy-to-make, vegan and non-dairy-friendly, gluten-free–but full of antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, and protein–and absolutely delicious!
- 4 cups Unsweetened almond milk (or any milk; add yogurt for extra creaminess)
- 1 cup Chia seeds
- ½ cup Maple syrup (or any sweetener, such as honey or agave)
- ½ - 1 tsp Vanilla extract (optional; for chocolate-flavored pudding, add 1 tbsp cocoa powder)
- Toppings! Fruits such as berries, mangoes or bananas; spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg; or anything that suits your fancy, such as granola and peanut butter!
- Combine ingredients, whisking all except toppings in a large mixing bowl
- Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Makes 6 servings
- Once the pudding has set, top with fruits and enjoy! Stays fridge-fresh for a week
End the Year on a High Note
We hope we’ve given you some inspiration for how to have a healthier, happier holiday. Share your positive intentions with friends and family, and maybe even be the one to bring a dessert alternative to the potluck. The recipe above looks super cute dished into mason jars and distributed around the table, and can be a sanitary way to gift food during the pandemic.
However you choose to celebrate the holidays, we hope you enjoy some delicious desserts!