Healthy holiday treats to tame your sweet tooth

It’s too easy to throw your arms up and proclaim a sugary, baked goodness free-for-all during the holidays, but all it takes is one bellyache to remind us our kids still need proper nutrition, whether ’tis the season or not.

Lunch box lessons

DSC_4715At Kendall College’s Lunch
Box Lessons, each parent-child duo gets tips about kitchen
essentials, a tasting and a lunch box. Classes cost for each
parent-child pair. Children must be 6-13. For class schedules,
visit, call (312) 752-2196 or e-mail

It’s possible to eat healthy during the holidays, says Executive Chef Renee Zonka, a registered dietician and associate dean at the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College.

Zonka organizes Lunch Box Lessons, offered at the School of Culinary Arts to help educate parents and kids about proper nutrition, kitchen etiquette and the importance of a healthful diet. Here are a few tricks Zonka has up her sleeve to make sure your holiday snacks this year are both tasty and healthy.

Replace oil and butter. Butter and oil provide moisture in a recipe, especially in cupcakes, breads and muffins. Applesauce provides the same moisture and can be used as a healthy alternative.

Ditch sugar. Use jams and jellies in place of sugar and sugar substitutes for a good pie crust. You’ll get the same sweetness and maintain texture. Nut cream or pureed nuts with a little water also make a good binder for crusts. For healthy holiday treats, use honey or pure maple syrup instead of sugar.

Skim the milk. Evaporated skim milk has the thickness of cream without all of the fat. A half cup of evaporated skim milk has less than half a gram of fat, while heavy cream has as much as 5.5 grams of fat per tablespoon. Add about a tablespoon of cornstarch to keep it from curdling.

Add whole grains. You can usually substitute a third of the flour the recipe calls for with whole wheat flour.

Simply being aware of the ingredients and replacing them with healthy options like vegetable and fruit purees will make holiday snacks healthier without sacrificing taste, Zonka says. “Always ask, ‘What is the purpose of this ingredient?’ and you won’t miss out on the additional fat or sugar.”

Zonka and Heidi Hedeker shared a few healthy holiday recipes to prove the point:

Cranberry-apple tart with chocolate walnut crust

Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder

Chunky Applesauce Cupcakes

Zucchini-Apple-Carrot bars with Date Glaze

Homemade Mozzarella Sticks

Esther Han is a Chicago Parent intern and student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

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