Healthy Holiday Treats are Easy and Oh So Good


December 26, 2019

Gwen Schwanke

Holiday parties are in full swing as everyone plans for New Year's Eve and Day celebrations and family gatherings continue to fill up every moment and every tummy. Holidays, from Halloween through the end of the year, can be challenging for healthy eating. Candy, cookies and turkey and gravy, all add often unwelcome calories to even the most conscientious person's diet. But have no fear, with a little bit of planning, heathy (er) eating can be delicious and add a festive, homemade note to your holidays.

First of all, don't be too hard on yourself if you've been overindulging these past few months. It happens. Let it go and move on to better choices. Just think about what you're eating and drinking rather than grabbing a handful of chips or another piece of grandma's homemade fudge. (Don't skip her fudge completely or you'll hurt her feelings. Just take one small piece to get all the love she filled it with.)

As you're watching what you eat, watch what you drink. Booze, as well as beer and soda, are high in calories and overindulging is a guaranteed way to feel awful all over. Sip, don't gulp, or consider sparkling water with a slice of citrus like lemon, lime or orange to wash down all those marvelously good things you're eating.

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"If you want to maintain your waistline, limiting your consumption of high calorie beverages is a great place to start," says Christy Tunnell, a clinical lecturer of nutrition and dietetics. "A cup of eggnog can be about 225 calories, and a cup of hot buttered rum can run up to 300 calories. That's a lot of extra calories and you'll likely still be hungry. In addition, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making it more likely that you'll overindulge and ditch your nutrition plan."

For holiday parties, or anytime, planning ahead and making homemade goodies saves calories and tastes so much better than anything that comes in a box or a bag.

Fruit is always a great choice. Grapes can be grabbed by the handful and nibbled one at a time. Apples, oranges, melons and berries in a salad or with a dip are scrumptious. Try a homemade yogurt dip with fruit for something new and really good. Take a cup (or two or however much you want) of plain yogurt, pour it onto a sheet of cheesecloth that has been stretched over a large bowl and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. Pour off the whey (I am almost certain that's what it is called in this case, right?), put the drained yogurt into the bowl, add a teaspoon or two of honey and a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon or orange juice, whip it up and serve with any and every kind of fruit.

Need to have cheese and crackers or your holiday just isn't complete? Make crackers, with or without cheese, then slice your cheese topping very thin. Or just serve the crackers with a little smoked salmon.

Homemade Cheddar Crackers


8 ounces sharp cheddar, finely grated

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

Pinch of cayenne

3 tablespoons ice water


Put the cheese, flour, butter, salt, seasoned salt and cayenne in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles sand. Add the ice water and pulse until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment baking paper.

Roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut into squares with a pizza cutter. Use a wooden skewer to poke a small hole in the center of each square. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Allow to cool before packing up.

These crackers are easy and the recipe allows for a lot of playing around. Not a big fan of cheddar? Try mixing it up and do half cheddar, half parmesan cheese or muenster. Co-jack, colby, nearly any kind of cheese will work. Trying topping the crackers with a small pinch of paprika, chopped fresh herbs like basil or parsley. The sky is the limit on these yummy little treats.

Homemade Soda Crackers


1 1/2 cups unbleached flour

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2/3 cup hot water (between 120 degrees Fahrenheit and 130 degrees Fahrenheit)

1/2 teaspoon barley malt syrup or 1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

sea salt, caraway, sesame, poppy or other seeds, for topping, optional

2 tablespoons butter, melted, optional


In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, yeast, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar. Stir in hot water, malt extract (or sugar) and shortening. Mix well to combine. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour to form a workable dough. Transfer the dough to lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and elastic - about 5 minutes by hand, 3 to 4 minutes in an electric mixer equipped with dough hook, or 30 seconds in a food processor. Form the dough into ball and place in a large, clean, well-greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 18 hours (the longer the better).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) several baking sheets.

Deflate the dough and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large rectangle about 1/16 inch thick. If the dough seems too elastic and fights being rolled thin, let it rest for 5 minutes, then roll again. Fold the dough in from the short ends to make three layers (like folding a letter). Roll out again, no more than 1/16 inch thick. Make sure surface under dough is well-floured to prevent sticking. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Cut into squares, circles, or whatever shape you'd like. A rolling pizza cutter and yardstick makes short work of this part.

Transfer the crackers to the baking sheets; don't allow them to touch one another, but you don't have to leave much room between one cracker and the next, either. Sprinkle crackers lightly with salt, and seeds (sesame, poppy, caraway...) if desired. Press salt/seeds lightly into dough with your fingers.

Bake the crackers for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the crackers. Crackers will be lightly browned.

Remove crackers from oven and brush with melted butter. Remove from baking sheet and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

For many people, potato chips are a must for nibbling. Potato chips are not even remotely the healthiest of snacks so try making homemade potato chips in the oven instead of grabbing a bag at the store.

Baked Potato Chips


2 medium potatoes (Idaho or sweet)

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice the potatoes into thin rounds using a sharp knife or a mandolin. Aim to have them about 1/8 inch thick, although a little variation is fine as long as they are thin. Toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Other spices can be added here as well. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a wire rack. Place the potatoes in a single layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crispy. Cool and serve.

Traditional dips that are heavy with sour cream or cream cheese to go with your chips isn't something you have to eat. Try a more versatile dip that is healthy and goes with anything you pick it up with. Veggies are especially good with hummus. Not just carrots and celery but peppers, broccoli, cauliflower; any kind of veggie you can slice up and eat is perfect.



1 15-ounce can chickpeas/garbanzo beans

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons tahini

2 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

Extra virgin olive oil for serving

Paprika, for serving

Fresh parsley for serving


Place chickpeas in a bowl of water and rub them together to peel the skin (optional step, but it helps create a creamy texture). Drain the garbanzo beans and transfer them to a food processor. Blend them alone until they become powder-like, scraping down the sides as needed.

While the food processor is running, add the ice cubes, lemon juice, tahini, garlic clove and salt, and blend for about 5 minutes until smooth. Once everything is blended, you can slowly add a little hot water while the machine is running to get a smoother texture. Taste and adjust as needed by adding more lemon juice or salt.

Spoon the hummus onto a plate or bowl, and spread the hummus with the back of a spoon to create swirls. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sumac and fresh parsley. Chopped olives are great with hummus and potato chips. Pita chips are also really good with hummus. Try using it for a dip with veggies. Even the youngest foodie will love the taste.


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