Holiday treats don’t have to equal holiday guilt (or pounds)—it doesn’t take much effort to transform traditional favorites into healthy new favorites. All you need to do is focus on individual ingredients. Use unrefined oils, not vegetable oil; opt for whole-grain flours, not white flour; use natural sweeteners, not white sugar. Once you’ve renovated your pantry, it’s a snap to renovate your recipes, too! Here’s a quick cheat sheet for healthier and more delicious holidays:
- Instead of vegetable/canola/corn/soy/grapeseed oil—all of which are heavily processed—choose unrefined coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, unrefined nut oils, or unrefined avocado oils. Seed oils are fragile and don’t handle heat well, so skip those for baking. (Walnut oil is also very fragile and should not be heated.) Coconut oil adds a slight sweetness to baked goods, while extra-virgin olive oil is slightly fruity and nut oils are wonderfully nutty. Unrefined avocado oil is mild and creamy…just like an avocado!
- Choose grass-fed butter rather than conventional butter. Kerrygold is wonderfully lush and widely available; Organic Valley also makes lovely butters. You might also want to check out your local farmers market. Another plus when it comes to grass-fed butter: It’s soft enough to cream right out of the fridge.
- Opt for grass-fed milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, etc. rather than conventional versions. The grass-fed varieties offer more natural vitamins (in particular A and D; conventional milk has to be fortified with A and D because the animals are not outside grazing) and a richer, creamier flavor. Kalona and Vermont Creamery make great lines of dairy products, or look for Organic Valley or locally produced dairy from grass-fed animals.
- When it comes to eggs, eggs from pastured hens whip stronger and faster than eggs from conventionally raised hens do, giving you a better structure for your baked goods. The yolks also taste richer and provide a deeper color for doughs and batters. If you’re a gluten-free baker, sturdy eggs are even more essential—they’re the only structure you’ve got. But no matter what you’re baking, eggs from pastured hens will give you more flavor and a more moist texture.
- Ditch the white sugar and use sucanat, palm sugar, or granulated coconut sugar instead. With batter-based recipes like cakes, quick breads, and muffins, you can use maple syrup, honey, or other natural sweeteners that are liquid. (Cookies made with liquid sweeteners would spread and become one giant flatbread.) If you have a coffee grinder, you can pulverize granulated sweeteners like sucanat into the equivalent of powdered sugar. Not only do natural sweeteners contain more nutrients than refined sugars, they’re far more flavorful—you won’t need as much of them.
- Rather than using all-purpose white flour, try making your favorite baked goods with whole-grain flours, using about 2 tablespoons less of the whole-grain flour per 1 cup. (If a recipe calls for 2 cups of white flour, use 2 cups minus 4 tablespoons, which would be 1 ¾ cups total of flour.) That’s because whole-grain flours are more absorbent—they’ll need a slightly higher liquid-to-flour ratio to achieve the same texture as white flour does. Use kamut, spelt, barley, or whole-wheat flour in place of white flour; for a gluten-free option, use sorghum, brown rice, millet, corn, or raw buckwheat flour instead of white flour. Note: There is such a thing as white whole-wheat flour!
Wishing you and your family and amazing and healthy holiday season!