The holidays may send too many sugar plums and frosted gingerbread figures dancing in the heads of people with dietary restrictions. Anyone that chooses to avoid highly processed flours or sugars, artificial ingredients and loads of butter will typically be presented with all of this and more at social gatherings this time of year. They arrive on visually appealing cookie platters that tempt with their cute shapes, vibrant colors and sparkle.
Some, like the gingerbread and reindeer cutouts, will beckon with glazed eyes: “Just one,” they whisper. But one can turn into nine and make someone that may normally avoid sugar or gluten feel bodily regrets. Someone that is vegan or allergic may feel they can’t have treats.
Making healthier choices about food is difficult for reasons many don’t understand. “People have relationships with food—involving family, comfort and traditions—and they don’t want to give that up,” says James Brandon, of Tampa, founder of Facebook’s Vegan and Plant-Based Beginner’s Community. Brandon says that holiday treats are tough to resist, but staying true to health goals is most important in the long run.
The best defense to avoid frustration at social food events is to bring a dish to share that meets your dietary needs, says Megan Gilmore, the author of No Excuses Detox: 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Every Day and a blogger at Detoxinista. “That way, you can introduce something delicious to your friends, family or co-workers and be sure you’ll have something to eat!”
A batch of simple, delectable, visually appealing and healthful cookies can be that plate to share, a gift to give or something to keep on hand for guests. Keep the focus on simple, advises Pamela Reed, who blogs at Brooklyn Farm Girl. There are plenty of recipes that will satisfy the sweet tooth and decorate the holiday buffet (until they’re all eaten, that is). Don’t increase holiday stress by trying a new recipe at the last minute. “Stick with your favorite recipes that you know are going to be a success and are going to leave everyone’s taste buds happy,” she says.
Transitioning to a more conscious way of eating isn’t about deprivation or leaving tradition behind. Bring on the new and healthful cookie recipes and name one after your grandma.
Julie Peterson writes from her home in rural Wisconsin. Contact her at JuliePeterson2222@gmail.com.
Oh-So-Healthy Holiday Treats
Peanut Butter Cookies (Vegan, Gluten Free)
photo by Pamela ReedYields: About 18 cookies
1 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup coconut sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
⅔ cup oat flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup almond milk
Additional sugar to roll cookies in
Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, cream together peanut butter and sugars with a hand mixer. Once combined, add vanilla and continue mixing.
Add flour, baking soda, salt and almond milk into the bowl and mix for a few seconds, until combined. The cookie dough will be a little crumbly.
Prepare 2 cookie sheets with silicone baking sheets or spray with nonstick spray. Roll the dough into large balls, and then gently roll in sugar to cover them. Use a fork to gently press down
on each cookie a little bit—not too much, or they will crumble.
Bake cookies for 12 minutes. Once out of the oven, allow to cool for 15 minutes. This is important, as the cookies will be very soft when they come out of the oven, but they will harden up as they cool.
Store in an airtight container or freeze.
Recipe courtesy of Brooklyn Farm Girl.
No-Bake Pecan Snowballs (Grain-Free, Vegan)
photo by Megan GilmoreYields: 12 balls
1 cup pecan halves
½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup soft Medjool dates, pitted (about 10 dates)
1 Tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup arrowroot or tapioca starch
Extra arrowroot for dusting, or coconut sugar
Place the pecans and shredded coconut in a large food processor fitted with an “S” blade, and process until the pecans are broken down and crumbly. Add in the rest of the ingredients and process again, until a sticky dough is formed. (It should stick together when pressed between two fingers.)
Scoop the dough by rounded tablespoons and roll the dough between your hands, forming balls. Arrange the balls on a plate or baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then place them in the freezer to set, about 1 to 2 hours. For a “snowball” look, roll the balls in additional arrowroot or tapioca starch—just a light coating will do—since the starch will not enhance the flavor. It’s just for looks!
Note: If you’d prefer to roll the balls in coconut sugar or shredded coconut, roll them in one of those options before freezing, so the coating will stick better.
Store in the fridge in a sealed container for up to two weeks for best texture.
No-Bake Peanut Butter Cup Bars (Vegan, Gluten Free)
photo by Megan GilmoreChocolate Crust:
¾ cup ground almond meal
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp melted coconut oil
Pinch of sea salt
Peanut Butter Filling:
½ cup creamy natural peanut butter
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp melted coconut oil
Pinch of sea salt
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup melted coconut oil
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
Line a standard loaf pan with parchment paper and set it aside. In a medium bowl, stir together the chocolate crust ingredients until a moist dough is formed. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the lined loaf pan and place it in the freezer to set.
To prepare the filling, you can use the same bowl to stir the peanut butter, maple syrup, coconut oil and salt. Depending on whether you’re using salted or unsalted peanut butter, consider adding more salt to taste. Store-bought peanut butter cups are quite salty, so I like to add a generous pinch of salt to mimic that flavor. Remove the crust from the freezer and pour the peanut butter filling over the top, using a spatula to spread it out evenly. Return the pan to the freezer to set.
Rinse the mixing bowl and use it again to make the final layer. Combine the cocoa powder, melted coconut oil and maple syrup, whisking well to break up any clumps. Once the mixture has become a smooth chocolate sauce, pour it over the peanut butter layer, and return the pan to the freezer to set until firm, about an hour or two.
Once the bars are firm, grab the edges of parchment paper to easily lift the solid bar from the pan, and use a sharp knife to slice the bars into your desired size. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for up to a month. (The bars become very firm if frozen for too long, so I prefer serving them from the fridge after the initial firming-up time.)