How to make your holiday baking healthier and less fattening

It's totally possible with a few substitutions. Case in point, check out this tasty orange-apricot-fig-date square recipe you'll love

Healthy holiday baking substitutions


The cold, dark evenings at this time of year seem to coax out everyone’s sweet tooth. There is just something about the winter months that make us want to indulge in sugary foods, but that doesn’t mean we need to load up on empty calories!

With the holidays fast approaching, we all need to make an extra effort to stay in control and not over-indulge. Holiday treats are exciting to serve, fun to make, and make us feel happy. However, they aren’t always healthy. That said, I’m not suggesting you should completely avoid them, but there is no reason to give your body desserts that have no nutritional value when you can benefit from every bite by making your own desserts with natural ingredients that don’t compromise on taste.

Most holiday desserts, including cakes, cookies, and pies, are full of:

  • Hydrogenated oils and saturated fats: These are used to keep most desserts and pastries on the shelf longer (they stick to your hips longer too) and are loaded with dense fats that can cause blockages in your heart and arteries.
  • Refined sugars: These can be anything from white powered sugar to table sugar or even brown sugar. Other than being overly sweet and full of empty calories that accumulate on your waistline, they often make you crave more than one piece of pie or more than one cookie. 
  • Processed white flour: This is often used to make cakes fluffy, light, and airy but give your body no nutritional value aside from starches which equal excess calories.

Choose these wholesome ingredients instead to make your cakes, cookies, squares, and pies:

  • Coconut oil and grapeseed oil: These are pure natural oils that can be heated to high temperatures without denaturing their precious fats. They work great in a variety of recipes and are good for you too. For example, coconut oil promotes health and offers a host of nutrients that benefit our skin, hair, nails, and the organs. See here for more info.
  • Sucanat, maple syrup, and dried fruit: These wholesome sweeteners can be used instead of sugar in any dessert recipe. Sucanat is dark and rich and a great substitute for brown sugar, especially for gingerbread and date squares. Maple syrup gives a nice smooth sweetness to cookies and cakes and dried fruit is a great natural way to add sweetness without sugar.
  • Spelt, kamut, or oat flour: All of these are great substitutes for both white and wheat flour. They are high in fibre, protein, and vitamins and can be substituted one-for-one in any baked recipe that calls for white flour. You can even use unbleached light spelt flour, which is like all-purpose flour and works great for squares, fluffy cakes, and loafs.

Orange-Apricot-Fig-Date Squares
1 cup chopped apricots
1 cup chopped dried figs
Juice of 1 orange
½ cup water
½ cup coconut butter
½ cup Sucanat or maple sugar
1 ¾ cup light spelt flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup rolled oats

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.
2.  Combine dates, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan. Cook, covered, on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.
3.  In a bowl, cream together the coconut oil and Sucanat. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add the oats and mix using your hands. The dough will be crumbly but will hold together when squeezed.
4.  Press 2/3 of the dough onto an oiled 8 or 9-inch square baking pan. Stir the date mixture and spread it over the dough. Crumble the remaining dough on top.
5.  Bake for 30 minutes. Cool in the pan and cut into squares.

Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.