Move over, Betty Crocker! You can still have your cookies and eat them, too with these healthy holiday baking substitutes (with recipes).
Cooking was never a pleasure for me. In fact, my mom was pretty militant about not letting any of her four rambunctious children in her kitchen while she was preparing our evening meal. Consequently, my early cooking skills consisted of boiling water for Ramen noodles or preparing a bologna and cheese sandwich.
However, there was one activity in the kitchen which always gave me great joy! This was the joy of baking.
Every so often, my mom would take out the cookie sheets and we would spend all afternoon preparing 2 batches of Nestle’s Toll House chocolate chip cookies. There were times when the batter was so thick that we even broke one of our wooden spoons! Yes, this was before the days of using hand mixers.
Of course, we always licked the raw batter from the spoon (listeria be darned!)
When I was losing weight, I sadly put a ban on ALL baked goods.
- My husband generously offered me a muffie from Panera every morning when we were dating. I said no.
- My co-workers regularly shared cake, cupcakes and cookies in the breakroom for birthday celebrations. I said no.
- My family made their famous holiday treats the few times a year I made it back to my hometown of Kenosha, WI. I took only a small bite.
I also love baking with my children, and have been doing so since they were 2 years old. This is one of the best ways you can cultivate early math skills in your kids. They helped me measure out the ingredients, mix them, and even put them on the baking sheets. My tween now enjoys making concoctions like fudge lava cakes, brownies and cake pops.
Now, as a former fat girl and health coach, I am older and wiser. While I do not make a habit of enjoying my favorite pastries, I do have some tried-and-true recipes that I use for my own house and share with my coaching clients when I get that undeniable urge to bake. Especially during the holiday season when everyone and their mother is showing off their finest kitchen creations!
Rather than deny your fun baking memories with your children and claim that your baking days are over, here are some awesome ways to remove the fat, sugar, or refined white flour from your favorite holiday recipes.
Healthy substitutes: bran (oat or wheat), buckwheat, oatmeal, nut flours, whole wheat flour, coconut flour
White flour is not the devil. However, it doesn’t have much to offer in the way of nutrition. Based on my own experiences with gluten-free and healthier baking, here are my top recommendations to decrease or completely remove the white stuff from your favorite recipes.
Increase fiber by adding oatmeal, whole wheat flour or oat/wheat bran
These whole grain options make your baked goods very dense and sometimes flat, so I recommend subbing only half of the white flour with one of these options. Personally, I prefer oat bran to any of the others.
Increase fat and remove gluten by using nut, buckwheat or coconut flours (or a mix of all)
Nut flours have come a long way, and most gluten-free flour blends contain these. Buckwheat is actually a vegetable, and can leave a slightly bitter taste if not tempered with other flours. However, buckwheat is great for pancake or waffle recipes, though it may not be top on your kid’s list.
I have had limited success using coconut flour, which drastically changes the texture of your baked goods. I spent lots of time making a coconut cake, and had to throw the whole thing away. I love coconut, but not the finished product. You may have better success. The most important thing to know about baking with coconut flour is you need a much lower dry to wet ingredient ratio for the right result. For example, a ½ cup of coconut flour is fine for most recipes.
Healthy substitutes: honey, agave, stevia, maple, coconut sugar, bananas, sweet potatoes, dates
Contrary to popular belief, sugar does NOT make you fat! I will repeat, sugar does NOT make you fat! I agree that most processed goods have an extremely high amount of added sugars, which you will already know once you get used to reading food labels. However, our grandmothers ate sugar, and turned out just fine.
The problem with sugar is NOT how addictive it is, or how it messes up your body, but how available it is. The good news is- when you make your own food, you control how much goes into your recipes. I never advocate a sugar-free lifestyle. First of all, that’s too extreme for most people I know. Second of all, gradually decreasing your dependence on sugar is more likely to awaken your taste buds to the new possibilities.
Nevertheless, we do have access to a whole host of natural sugars found in honey, agave, maple, coconut, and fruit like bananas, apples and dates or vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots. I have tried all of these, and prefer maple or fruit for most of my kid-approved recipes.
The taste of agave just doesn’t do much for me, either in baking or coffee or oatmeal. And stevia just tastes weird to me. Honey is ok for baking, but leaves a more subtle taste. Coconut sugar did not add enough sweetness, in my opinion.
However, using mashed banana and sweet potatoes for your muffins and cakes yields a delicious result! Dates are better used in no-bake protein ball recipes from the Daily Burn. I also love a helping of dates in my oatmeal, as I’m not much for cooked raisins.Move over, Betty Crocker! Check out these healthy holiday baking substitutes (with recipes) Click To Tweet
Healthy substitutes: flax or chia seeds
Let me tell you- I am not even close to vegan! While I played around with vegetarianism for a good year, I decided to return to my meat-eating roots. Going vegan has been teasing me for quite a while, if only I could give up my obsession with cheese.
Yet, since my family can go through a full 3 dozen eggs in a week, I thought it would be helpful to share ideas for when your fridge is empty of the yummy yolks. Flax seeds and chia seeds can prove a worthy substitute when soaked in water. Plus, their shelf (or fridge) life is much longer than eggs. Not to mention they are chock-full of Omega 6s, which eggs have to be fortified with.
Note: I do not generally buy flax or chia seeds, as I don’t care for them. Therefore, I have not tested any recipes with these. However, considering you can add them to your oatmeal or make “breakfast bowls” out of them, I wanted to give them a shout-out.
Eggs generally make your baked goods more fluffy, which seeds do not do as well. Therefore, these seed replacements might be better for breakfast bars or cakes.
Healthy substitutes: coconut oil, applesauce, bananas, sweet potatoes, nut butters, avocados
Fat does not make you fat! I repeat, fat does not make you FAT! Wait, didn’t I just say that about sugar….? It’s called balance, my friend.
If you listen to Dr. Hyman, you would know that there is a revolution of fat-lovers leading the charge. So, go ahead, enjoy a healthy dose of fats as part of your healthy diet. Fat is great for your brain, and helps control your hunger cravings.
I didn’t believe it at first. I grew up eating entire boxes of Snackwell’s low-fat cookies, because they were “good” for me. Um, not so much. It wasn’t until I started eating more healthy fat that I was able to see the muscles I was building with my lifting routines.
Fat is critical when it comes to baked goods! It creates the desired “crumb” in muffins and cakes, and makes the recipe more palatable to our discerning taste buds. Have you ever tried removing the fat entirely from your baked good? The result probably tasted something like cardboard.
Yet, there are some lovely ways to change the type of fat you use in your baking for tastier results. Personally, I love using nut butters and coconut oil the most. Coconut oil does leave a subtle flavor, so if you are not a fan of the flavor, try nut butters instead. Go beyond peanut butter, and use almond, cashew and even hazelnut butter (use caution with sugar-loaded Nutella, though).
Watch this short video of me demonstrating how to make fudgy gluten-free brownies using coconut oil.
Bananas, sweet potatoes and avocados are fruit-friendly ways to actually decrease the fat in your baked goods, while pumping up the fiber and nutrients. The first two are basically staples in my house, especially sweet potatoes during November and December. There is a grain-free banana muffin that I keep on weekly rotation for my girls, and a couple of sweet potato muffin recipes that disappeared shortly after baking them. Check out both recipes here.
I have not used avocados in any of my recipes- because I generally don’t buy them. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to try this decadent chocolate cake with avocado frosting.
Healthy substitute: Greek yogurt
I don’t generally like white stuff like sour cream and mayo. One time, I literally spit out a sandwich from Cousins because they put that yucky white mayo on it- even though I ordered it free from that disgustingness! My hatred for mayo goes deep, and that includes the weird cousin, Miracle Whip. I am ok with sour cream, when it’s used in special cake recipes to increase the moist factor.
Enter Greek yogurt. Not only is it great for breakfast, snacks, dips and for a dollop on your favorite potato, but it also is a great add-in to cakes. Plain Greek yogurt (not that sweetened garbage) has a high amount of protein with very little sugar. Plus, getting the full fat version makes your baked goods even tastier.
I use Greek yogurt in bars and cakes. It helps to soften whole grains, or even chia or flax seeds, for a more homogenous batter. Here are healthy chocolate nut squares using Greek yogurt.
Healthy substitute: coconut, soy, or nut milks
I love milk. After all, I grew up a cheesehead in Wisconsin, so I come by my love of dairy honestly. Though I generally don’t drink a straight up glass of milk (unless it has chocolate in it), I will often use milk in my scrambled eggs, waffles, cereal, and the occasional smoothie.
Well, I respect that some folks reading this may be lactose-intolerant, and don’t generally keep it in their house. Or, maybe your child has an allergy. Therefore, it’s helpful to note that any non-dairy milk can present a one-to-one sub opportunity.
From what I understand, some of these non-dairy milks don’t keep very well, which is why I keep powdered coconut milk on hand. This is shelf-stable, quite cheap, and can be used in curries, stir-frys and stews as well. I got my powdered coconut milk at the local Indian store. It can even be used in no-bake ball recipes in place of protein power.
Note: I do strongly caution against using soy milks in recipes that for your children. While the heat of the oven may render it less hormone-loaded, soy milk is generally not the best option for kids. Read more on the safety of soy for kids on Livestrong or is soy healthy for kids on Wellness Mama.