Kitchology guest contributor Nikki Nies, MS, RD, LD
Confessions of the holiday cookie can be overhauled to your health. How about taking a cookie break? Sure, it’s easy to overdue in that department too, especially if you’ve got a sweet tooth like me. I know how hard it is not to be tempted by every dessert offered on every tray. But, pause for a minute, before you make another run to the grocery store to stock up on bags of sugar and shortening. Make the holidays a bit healthier by following these cookie baking tips and everyone will thank you!
Suggestions on how to make healthier holiday cookies:
- Limit the number of options you give. More availability means more consumption. While one extra cookie may seem harmless, the calories, fat and sugar can add up to too many, and that’s heaped on top of second helpings of food and beverages.
- Opt for egg whites instead of whole eggs. Not only are egg whites lower in calories and cholesterol, but also there’s no change in flavor. Find out about it at Everyday Health.
- Decrease the cookie size. Many cookie recipes call for a least a spoonful of dropped batter on an ungreased cookie sheet. Yet, stay mindful of the cookie’s size and stick with smaller ones. Subconsciously, people will be thankful for the provided moderation. Learn about this topic at Health Aim.
- Limit the number of cookie add ins. For example, when chocolate chips, nuts, fruits, toffee pieces and icing are all added to a cookie, of course the calories are going to add up too! Instead, stick to a rule of no more than 2 additions per cookie. Incidentally, ginger snaps and sugar cookies tend to be plainer are more caloric friendly. Find out about it at Health Aim.
- Substitute all purpose white flour for whole wheat flour. This measure improves the cookie’s fiber content about fourfold. Note that the whole wheat flour will make cookies denser and give them a slightly nuttier taste. Gradually transition to whole wheat from all purpose using half increments of each flour type. ‘Finely milled whole wheat flour’ is also healthier than all purpose flour. But, the former still looks and feels like the expected texture. In addition, by using 1/4 to 1/2 cup of oat flour to replace some of the all purpose flour, this amps up the soluable fiber content. This statement comes from CBS News.
- Experiment with other dry ingredients. Add in flaxseed flour or ground up flax meal, which will add beneficial omega 3 fatty acids and decrease inflammation. Flax works best in fruit thumbprint and spice cookies (e.g. gingerbread or molasses).
- Reduce the amount of sodium. Adjust the recipe’s added salt content to 1/2 teaspoon. This smaller amount still provides the cookie with the right amount of flavor enhancement.
- Reduce the amount of sugar. This is especially true with naturally sweet chocolate chip and/or other fruit type cookies. Use 1/4 to 1/3 less sugar than what’s asked for in the recipe. You might notice a slight difference in flavor, but won’t feel as guilty! If the taste difference is too noticeable feel free to experiment by using a sugar substitute that’s suitable for baking.
- Lighten up on the icing. Instead of spreading an entire layer of icing over the cookie, cut back on the sweetness and calories by using a drizzle instead. For extra flavor sprinkle an extra dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Find these techniques at Eating Well.
- Use less butter. Cut up to ½ the amount of butter or shortening in a recipe and replace it with a vegetable or fruit puree (e.g. applesauce, pear, pumpkin, zucchini, beets). In addition to adding flavor, the fruits and vegetables will change the texture, resulting in a chewier cookie. Also, nonflavored oil (e.g. soybean, grapeseed, avocado or canola) can replace butter or shortening for any type of cookie with the exception of peanut butter. Do note, substituting fats may limit the amount a cookie spreads in comparison with a full fat version. It may be helpful to press cookies down into circles before placing in oven. Learn more about these tricks at CBS News and Eating Well.
- Opt for a more intense flavor. Why not use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate chips? Chop or shave pieces of dark chocolate from a bar made with 70-80% cacao or cocoa. This measure can lead to consumption of more heart healthy antioxidants. Read about it at Everyday Health.
- Making your own fruit fillings. Control the sweetness factor by buying frozen raspberries or dried apricots; these can easily be simmered in water and added to thumbprint or crescent cookies.
- Limit the use of artificial ingredients. Instead of using every rainbow color, make natural frosting using melted chocolate, nuts, jams and white frosting. Learn about this topic at Live Science.
While you’re probably not ready for a total cookie overhaul, experiment with additions and substitutions within your own comfort zone. Who knows? These changes may add an extra element of fun to baking during the holidays! With so many baking hacks out there, I’m sure I missed some other healthful tips. So, don’t Grinch out on us…What’s your favorite way to make cookies healthier?