The holiday season is upon us. It is a time to enjoy delicious food, family, and friendship. Unfortunately, it is also a time when we tend to overindulge in rich, nutrient-poor foods. Modifying some of your favorite recipes can help add nutrients and reduce not-so-healthy ingredients. Here are 7 ways to bake healthier this holiday season.
1. Replace the Fat.
One reason holiday baked goods taste so good is that they are full of fat. There are so many ways to replace the fat in recipes while adding more nutrients and fiber. One way is to substitute equal amounts of Greek yogurt, but make sure to also add ½ teaspoon of baking soda per cup of yogurt. Greek yogurt contains significantly higher amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as B12 and selenium, while providing much less saturated fat. Avocados are another excellent alternative for butter or oil. You can substitute ¾ cup to 1 cup of avocado for 1 cup of butter, but you will need to reduce your baking temperature by 25%. Avocados are naturally cholesterol-free and provide you with fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
2. Add a Vegetable or Fruit
You can add carrots, apples, bananas, or pumpkin – shredded or pureed - to increase nutrients, fiber, flavor, or moisture. They can also replace some of the butter or oil in recipes.
3. Try Alternative Flours
Recipes most commonly call for processed, all-purpose flour, but that is not the healthiest choice for us since it has been stripped of its fiber. Experiment with recipes that call for whole-wheat flour (or a mixture of whole-wheat and white), chickpea, or almond flour. These flours provide a wide array of nutrients and fiber, as well as flavor, to your baked goods.
4. Eliminate the Flour Entirely
Though it might seem counter-intuitive, you can replace the flour in some recipes with beans. Swap equal parts pureed black beans for white flour in recipes for brownies, cakes, and cookies. Use a lighter bean such as garbanzos for lighter-colored treats. Beans can also be used as a substitute for the fat in many recipes. Beans provide protein and fiber to ramp up the health benefits of holiday treats.
5. Reduce Sugar.
We’ve all heard that we should reduce our consumption of refined sugar. There are many ways to do that in our baking. Substitute figs, dates, bananas, vanilla, or spices for the sugar in recipes. 8 ounces of dried figs soaked to rehydrate and pureed with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water can replace half the fat and all of the sugar in most recipes. 1 cup of pitted dates pureed with ½ to 1 cup of warm water can replace half the sugar. Not only do these fruits replace the sugar, but they add depth to the flavor profile of your dessert.
6. Increase the Spices
You can also cut the amount of sugar in half in a recipe that calls for a lot of aromatic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg by doubling the amount of each spice and the vanilla extract.
7. Add Aronia berries.
Aronia berries are truly a superfood, packing a powerful punch of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Adding them to your holiday desserts will not only add festive color to your muffins, quick breads, and pies, but it will provide your family and friends with nutrients to promote good health for the new year ahead.
With some bold experimentation and a little creativity, you can bake your holiday favorites and feel good knowing that you are providing healthy treats to the people you love. We always have a choice in what we eat, and it is easier now than ever before to choose healthy foods even while indulging. You can enjoy the holidays, even more, knowing that you are eating for your health.