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The holidays are about family, friends, and comfort (and spending money). Eating and gaining weight is probably the most comforting and the most frustrating part of partaking in the holiday festivities. The food is rich, tasty, and, unfortunately, typically not on any weight loss plan. Non-clean eating desserts abound at office parties, holiday parties, and typical holiday meals. I decided to set out and hunt down some not just decent, but GOOD, crave worthy holiday treats. Dare I call them “Healthy Christmas Recipes”? Well, maybe not but they are most definitely healthier. They are made with whole food ingredients, less sugar then their traditional varieties, and most are filled with additional ingredients that add lots of healthy fiber, plus vitamins and minerals. So, while truly healthy might be a stretch, these are definitely some alternative healthy Christmas treats you can impress your friends with (“I made these from scratch!”), and you can feel good about serving to friend and family, alike.
Deep Dark Double Chocolate Brownies
I kid you not, I tried 8 (yes 8) different brownie recipes in my quest for a good alternative to traditional brownies. They are my husband’s favorite and we do love a good box of dark chocolate brownie mix. However, the additives and preservatives, not to mention the lack of any nutritional value, leave a lot to be desired. And, traditional homemade brownies, while very tasty, are loaded with sugar – often as much as 2 cups. That’s just too much, even when using unrefined sugars. I tried alternatives to sugar without very good results (trying both maple syrup and honey). The texture and flavor were off. So, the recipe I finally found and settled on does have real, unrefined sugar in it. They are the richest, fudgiest, moistest (Yes, I used the controversial word, but wet just doesn’t work, and isn’t really any better.) brownies I’ve ever eaten and the texture is great (I discovered this is hard to find in “alternative brownies”. Most had a bizarre gummy texture. I am a texture person, so I could NOT get past this, no matter how great they may have tasted.). This recipe is inspired by Texan Erin, with some of my own modifications.
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- ¾ cup unrefined sugar
- ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups grated zucchini (The recipe I used said peeled. I didn’t peel it and it was fine.)
- 1 cup chocolate chips (I used a cacao bar and chopped it up) plus ½ cup for the top.
Preheat the oven to 350 and line and 8×8 pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine eggs, vanilla, sugar and applesauce. Let it sit for 5 minutes until sugar dissolves. While that is sitting, in a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt. Sift if needed to be sure it is smooth. Add the dry mixture to the wet and stir until just combined. Don’t overmix. Fold in the zucchini and 1 c. chocolate chips (don’t skimp here). Pour into prepared pan. Top with remaining chocolate chips. Bake about 30-35 minutes. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week (keep in the fridge due to the moisture).
*Note: Cutting brownies with a plastic knife will give you a cleaner cut with less crumbling.
Gluten- Free Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
I love a good chocolate chip cookie. Especially fresh out of the oven. Also, especially uncooked. I’ve made many recipes. I’ve even accidentally made them without white sugar (they turn out more like muffin tops, but they are quite good, actually). I went on a hunt for a great, healthier alternative to sugar loaded chocolate chip cookies. I also happen to really love oatmeal cookies, so this one wasn’t quite as hard to find as the brownies. The only thing that made it a little difficult is that I really wanted to find one without bananas. That seems to be a common sweetener in healthy Christmas cookies (or healthy, anytime cookies!) and, well, I just don’t love banana. This recipe not only has very little sugar, it also has NO flour, just oats. If you use gluten free oats (like I did), and make sure your chocolate is gluten free, you have awesome gluten free chocolate chip cookies! So, enough playing UP the recipe. Here goes (recipe from Chelseas Messy Apron)…
- ¾ cup oat flour
- ½ cup old fashioned oats
- ¼ cup quick oats
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch of salt (I like sea salt in my chocolate chip cookies, so mine MAY have had more than a pinch)
- 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 large egg
- 4 Tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ cup coconut oil
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips (I actually crushed up an Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans chocolate bar)
Take about a cup regular old fashioned oats and blend them until they resemble flour in a blender or food processor. In a medium bowl, blend together your ¾ cup (measure after blending) oat flour, old fashioned oats, quick oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, stir together vanilla, egg and brown sugar. Melt the coconut oil and let it cool a few minutes (don’t let it reharden or it will not mix evenly) and add it to the wet ingredient bowl (The only with the eggs and vanilla in case you are a first time baker). Stir until well combined. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate. The next step is crucial. Cover the dough tightly and let it chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Scoop the dough into balls. Honestly, I made these twice because I didn’t realize the importance of letting the oil harden up. I made the cookies by rolling into balls by hand. This is FINE, but you MUST refrigerate again before baking to let the oil harden back up again if you do this. My first batch, I didn’t, and they had a burned taste on the bottom. They were still good (or I wouldn’t have tried again), but better when I let them harden back up before baking.
While they are chilling, preheat oven to 350. Bake 7-9 minutes until they start to brown around the edges. The will be soft in the middle. That’s okay! They will harden up once cooled a bit (but will still be chewy). Let them cool about 2 minutes before removing from the pan. Follow this recipe exactly to get the right texture.
Paleo Lemon Bars
So, I’ll admit I am not a fruity dessert fan. If I’m going to eat dessert, chocolate needs to be included. However, I know I am an anomaly and most normal people appreciate both chocolate and other “desserts”. So, alas, I figured I’d better include a few items that didn’t contain chocolate. Lemon seems to be a popular dessert theme, so I went with it and tested them on my church family. Well, they were gone before I even had a chance to snap a picture, so I guess they were okay. This was the only recipe I didn’t hunt for. I just made the first one I found, but again, they were gone quickly and several people asked for the recipe, so that seems to be a good sign. Searching for a great lemon dessert, I decided to go paleo on this one. I figured if I was leaving out the chocolate, I may as well leave out all refined sugar. This one has honey. Quite a bit of honey, actually. So, diabetic friendly, it really is not. Unprocessed it is though. This recipe came from Civilized Caveman Cooking.
- 6 whole eggs
- ½ cup raw honey
- ½ cup coconut oil
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice (It took 7 lemons for me. The website suggests 8.)
- Optional – unsweetened shredded coconut (I did not use this, but the recipe calls for it. I don’t like it, so I don’t usually buy it.)
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 1 cup raw macadamia nuts
- ¼ cup raw honey
- ½ cup melted coconut oil
- 2 eggs
Topping: Whisk your eggs, honey, and lemon juice together in a small sauce pan. Place on your stove over medium/high heat and add coconut oil. Stir until the coconut oil melts and then continue stirring until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Stir constantly or it will burn. Once thick, remove from the heat and place in a bowl in the refrigerator to cool.
Crust: Preheat oven to 400. Place your almonds and macadamia nuts in a food processor and blend until in small chunks (not a fine as flour). In a mixing bowl, combine nuts, honey, melted coconut oil (be sure it’s cooled enough that it won’t cook the eggs), and eggs. Grease an 8×12 pan (I used 9×13 because that’s all I have) and spread mixture over the entire pan. Bake for 15-18 minutes until it passes the toothpick test. Cool completely. Spread lemon topping evening over the crust and return to the refrigerator (or freezer) until you are ready to serve it.
Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread
You can’t do the holidays without pumpkin. I’ll admit, I was a skeptic on this one. I tried a few pie recipes that were supposed to be healthy. They were all “off” and, honestly, went right in the trash. I don’t like to waste food, so that tells you how bad they were. The texture was awful. My sister gave me the recipe and assured me it wasn’t TOO pumpkiny (spellcheck tells me that’s not a word, but it should be). If you haven’t guessed, I’m a bit picky. Pumpkin is another thing that isn’t a favorite of mine. I don’t hate it, but it’s not my first choice. However, I promise this is REALLY good. In fact, it might have been my favorite thing I discovered in this food adventure. The funny part is, I have the cookbook with this recipe in it and had never tried it. I DID add some chocolate chips to a small loaf I made because, well, I love chocolate. But, it was good with AND without. This recipe comes from the cookbook:100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love.
As a quick side note, this recipe calls for whole wheat flour. Not all whole wheat flours are equal, I have found. The only one I’ve found that doesn’t really affect the texture and WEIGHT of recipes that typically use white flour is King Arthur white whole wheat. It’s whole grain, but I’m pretty certain it has a pretty high gluten content. So, just be aware if you are at all gluten-sensitive.
- 1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup coconut oil
- ½ cup honey
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- ½ cup nuts OR chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (from the flour down to the salt). Make a well in the center and add in the eggs, oil, honey, and vanilla. Stir together with a fork, but do not overmix. Fold in the pumpkin puree (and nuts or chocolate). Grease a large loaf pan (or use muffin liners if making muffins). Bake 30-40 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean) for a loaf or 18-22 minutes for muffins.
Holiday temptations are everywhere. I find the best way to stay on track with eating during the holiday is to bring my own healthy treats when I go somewhere where I know I’ll be tempted. I prefer to know exactly what I’m putting in my body. It also helps me maintain my weight and not gain. I hope these well researched healthy Christmas recipes help you stay healthful and happy this holiday season while impressing your guests, friends, co-workers, etc. It was fun, and challenging, trying out so many clean eating dessert recipes! Eat, drink, and be merry! Happy Holidays!
What is your favorite healthy holiday recipe?