Healthy-ish Holiday Treats

Less Heavy, Just as Satisfying

Conner Newbold | Photos by Mary Harper Nov 16, 2018

Holiday parties, family gatherings, church events and neighborhood gift exchanges — what do they all have in common? Food — and plenty of it.

Let’s admit it. All that food is a key ingredient in a cozy, homey holiday season. What would Thanksgiving be without several platefuls of stuffing, potatoes, turkey and pie? Christmas without ham, eggnog, truffles and gingerbread isn’t really Christmas at all. But pairing rich desserts and heavy meals with the inevitable stresses of the season is likely to leave you with an unwanted gift around your midsection — and no receipt.

It’s undeniably tough to eat smart during the holidays. But today’s clean-eating culture makes it easier to find healthy alternatives, like the four we’ve listed below. They’re a little lighter, a bit more nutritious and a tad more wholesome than their alternatives — but won’t leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Cranberry Dark Chocolate Biscotti

Enjoy this crunchy biscotti yourself, serve to guests or gift it to neighbors in cello bags.

Ingredients - Biscotti
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened slightly
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
Ingredients - Chocolate Drizzle
  • 2 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons honey

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
3. Cream the butter, honey, orange zest and salt. Add the eggs and mix until well combined, then combine with the flour and baking powder.
4. Chop the chocolate and nuts into small pieces.
5. Pulse the cranberries in a food processor, then toss with a teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of flour.
6. Add the chocolate, nuts and cranberry mixture to the dough, stirring until just combined.
7. Flour your hands and the outside of the dough. Transfer to the prepared pan and shape into a long, skinny, flat loaf — about 13 inches by 3 inches. Bake for 35 minutes.
8. Once cooled, cut the loaf into thin slices with a serrated knife. Place the slices face down on the baking sheet and bake until browned and crispy, about 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
9. Melt the chocolate and honey in a double boiler. Drizzle over the biscotti and let cool.
10. Serve with strong coffee, spicy tea or steamed milk for dunking.

Recipe adapted from Cranberry Dark Chocolate Biscotti at

Healthy Gingerbread Muffins

Perfect to serve hot or cold to your holiday houseguests for breakfast.

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger paste (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Turbinado sugar for topping

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease a muffin tin with cooking spray or butter.
3. Melt the coconut oil. In a small bowl, whisk the molasses into the liquid coconut oil.
4. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, sour cream, milk and ginger. Let the mixture sit until it reaches room temperature (this prevents the coconut oil from clumping when you mix it in).
5. Once it reaches room temperature, add the coconut oil and molasses mixture.
6. Add the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir until just combined.
7. Scoop into a muffin tin and sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar.
8. Bake 17-20 minutes, or until the tops are puffy and firm to the touch. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from Healthy Gingerbread Muffins at

Holiday Trifle

Improvise to fit your tastes and time by adding berries and/or using boxed pudding mix instead of making your own custard.

  • 3 cups skim milk 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 9 ounces prepared angel food cake, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 can (14-16 oz) whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1. In a large saucepan, gradually bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, then remove from the heat. While the milk heats, beat eggs, cornstarch, granulated sugar and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth.
2. Add the hot milk to the egg mixture in a thin stream, whisking. Pour it back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
3. Pour the custard back into the bowl and chill 30 minutes.
4. Put half of the cake cubes in a 3-quart glass bowl. Sprinkle with half of the orange juice, then spread half of the cranberry sauce over the cake. Cover the sauce with half of the custard. Repeat the process to make a second layer, covering the top of the cake with custard. Chill overnight.
5. Whip cream with confectioners’ sugar until soft peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on top of the trifle and sprinkle with almonds. 

Recipe adapted from Holiday Trifle at

Chocolate Pomegranate Clusters

Dark chocolate and fruit — what could be healthier?

  • 1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 1 large pomegranate 

1. Slice pomegranate into quarters. Soak the quarters in a bowl of water for about five minutes.
2. Gently break the pomegranate apart under the water. The seeds will fall to the bottom, the rest will float. Remove the rind and membranes.
3. Remove the seeds from the bowl and pick out any debris. Spread them on a paper towel-lined plate and blot gently with more paper towels.
4. Transfer the seeds to fresh paper towels and allow them to air dry for three hours. Any residual moisture will prevent the chocolate from binding to the seeds, leaving you with a crumbly mess instead of a cluster.
5. Line a mini muffin pan with mini muffin cup liners.
6. Pour the chocolate chips into a heavy-duty zip top bag and shake them down into one corner. Microwave in short intervals, removing and kneading the bag every 15-20 seconds, until the chocolate is smooth and viscous.
7. Squeeze the chocolate down into one corner of the bag, then snip about 1/8 inch off of the edge for a makeshift piping bag.
8. Drizzle some chocolate into the bottom of a muffin cup. Add a layer of pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with more chocolate. Repeat until you have four layers of chocolate and three layers of seeds.
9. Repeat in each muffin cup until you’ve used all the pomegranate and chocolate.
10. Allow the clusters to harden in a cool, dry place.

Recipe adapted from Chocolate Pomegranate Clusters at

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