Healthy Holiday Sweets

Let's be totally honest. It's Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/Yule and you're confronted with trays of cookies, cakes, and candies at every turn. You know, the not-so-healthy holiday sweets. They call your name at the office party, in grandma's kitchen, in the bank lobby, and in the teacher's lounge (a place of unspeakable sugar decadence.) How many of us can resist? 

Healthy Girlfriend used to bravely walk past the white sugar/white flour treats the first few confrontations. Eventually came the "what the heck, it's the holidays" moment of weakness and we'd tuck into a beautifully frosted sugar cookie. Or two. Pretty soon it's a free for all with mom's homemade fudge, the neighbor's over-the-top caramel corn, gingerbread people, pumpkin pecan pies.

You know the sad story. The guilt and shame become unbearable. "That's it," you cry, "no more sugar!" But it really doesn't end until either we've made ourselves sick or the sweets stop appearing sometime after New Year's.

We don't do that anymore. At least not the guilt part of the story. Sure, we might nibble on a cookie or two that mom lovingly baked, even enthusiastically demolish that bag of homemade caramel corn since it was made with coconut oil, maple syrup and non-GMO corn (right Delilah?) Instead of fighting a losing battle of willpower, we've come up with an arsenal of healthy holiday sweets that satisfy our sweet tooth and make it less likely to overindulge on the not-so-healthy sweets.

Cookie Dough Bites

The great thing about these healthy holiday sweets is that you can tweak and vary the ingredients every time you make them. Plus, they don't require baking which frees up your oven for other things. And they're fast and easy. And deliciously rich. Actually, that makes about 4 great things.

  • Scant 2 cups ground raw (unsalted) cashews
  • 3/4 cup ground raw oats
  •  1/4 cup plus 1T agave nectar or raw honey 
  •  1/4 cup coconut oil 
  •  1 tsp almond extract and 1 tsp vanilla extract (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
  •  1 cup organic chocolate chips or carob chips

Grind cashews in a food processor until no big pieces remain. Add oats and process until you have a fairly even crumb but not a powder. Add the nectar or honey (honey yields a sweeter product,) coconut oil, and extracts. Process just until everything is thoroughly mixed. Remove from food processor, put into a bowl and stir in the chocolate or carob chips using your hands. The dough will be quite thick so you can't really stir it. Form into balls unless you're really creative and want to roll it out and cut into shapes. Recipe makes about two dozen, 1 inch cookie dough bites.

Almost Delilah's Caramel Corn

We've tweaked the classic caramel corn recipe to make it a truly healthy holiday sweet. 

  • 6 cups popped organic popcorn (1/3 cup popcorn kernels popped with coconut oil)
  •  ½ cup real maple syrup 
  •  3 tablespoons raw almond butter or coconut oil
  •  1½ teaspoons vanilla extract 
  •  ¼ teaspoon Celtic sea salt (or more to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pop the popcorn according to package directions.

Make the caramel sauce: In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium heat. Continue boiling for 2-3 minutes, and lower the heat if it looks like it's going to boil over. Remove the pot from heat and whisk in the nut butter or coconut oil, vanilla,  and sea salt. Whisk until well blended. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the popcorn and toss with a rubber scraper until well mixed. Now put the popcorn in a single layer on the parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake the popcorn for 6 minutes, then rotate the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Take it out of the oven and add a little more salt to your liking. It will become crisper as it cools. Break it apart once it's cool and put in plastic bags. 

Healthy Holiday Sweet and Spicy (Lowfat!)Pumpkin Bread

Yes, it's true. This low fat quick bread really is a healthy holiday sweet. It's tasty and freezes well, too. It's so moist, you'll never miss the butter or oil. This recipe is adapted from Dr. Neil Barnard's book Power Foods for the Brain, so it doesn't just taste great, it's also protective against dementia! 

  • 2 cups organic whole wheat flour 
  •  1 tsp baking soda  
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt
  • 1 1/2 T ground flaxseed
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp powdered clove
  • 1/2 cup almond milk or other nut milk
  • 1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
  •  1/2 cup maple syrup (or honey or agave nectar)
  •  1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  •  1/2 cup organic raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw walnuts (to sprinkle on top of batter, optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a loaf pan with coconut oil. Combine flour, baking powder and soda, salt, flax, and spices. In another bowl, whisk nut milk, pumpkin, maple syrup, vinegar, and vanilla. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together until well mixed. Fold in raisins and pour batter into the loaf pan. Scatter the nuts on top and bake for about an hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool before slicing.

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