Healthy Holiday Cooking Substitutes

Photo: Sugar Cookies

With the holiday season in full swing and you begin to think about recipes, consider making a few ingredient changes that will be good for your health and your waistline, while not taking away from the overall tasty experience of your favorite meals.

Read on for some tips!


Instead of the usual refined sugars, use natural sugars where appropriate, including:

  • Coconut Sugar: Similar to brown sugar, you can use coconut sugar wherever you would use brown sugar, in the same proportion.
  • Apple Sauce: Use the same amount of applesauce that the recipe calls for in sugar, though it is wetter so reduce other fluids by ¼ cup. It works well in muffins, sweet breads, cake, and other baked goods.
  • Fruit Juice: This can add nice flavors to desserts such as cakes and cookies, though it might take some experimenting to get the right proportions for the consistency you wish to achieve.
  • Honey: Honey is sweeter than sugar, so you don’t need to use as much. Honey works great in cookies, tea/hot drinks, smoothies, biscuits and cake.
  • Maple Syrup/Sugar: You can use maple sugar in cakes, but if you use the liquid form you will need to reduce the amount of other liquids by ¼ cup.
  • Stevia: This zero-calorie alternative sweetener packs a powerful punch in tiny quantities. Stevia is great to use in drinks. In baking you can replace all but ¼ cup of sugar in the recipe, and for each ½ cup sugar that you take out, replace with 3½ Tablespoons of stevia.

If you choose to use regular sugar in your recipes, reducing the amount by ¼ cup will make your holiday treats more healthy, but still sweet. You can do the same with salt or chocolate chips, or you can replace chocolate chips with nuts, raisins, or other fruits.

Pie crust/flours

An alternative to using white flour for pie crust is to use ground raw nuts, such as almonds or pecans. If you’re allergic to nuts or would prefer a flour crust, whole wheat instead of white, or even half and half, could be the way to go. Whole-wheat phyllo dough is low in calories and is a great whole grain alternative.

For baked goods, particularly cookies, whole grain flour, coconut, or almond flour instead of white pastry flour are good alternatives, and they can add a different and unique flavor while simultaneously being healthier.

With coconut flour, it is important to note that you cannot replace it for regular flour with a 1:1 ratio; it is very absorbent, so you need less. For every cup of flour the recipe calls for, use ⅓ or ¼ cup of coconut flour and increase the amount of egg replacer. Generally speaking, the ratio of a cup of coconut flour to egg replacer is 1:6, along with a cup of liquid (like coconut milk).

Note: Almond flour, and all nut-based flours, burn more easily than other flours so you may need to lower the oven’s heat and bake for a shorter time.

Egg replacers

Flax meal or chia seed meal can replace an egg by using 1 Tablespoon flax or chia meal in 3 Tablespoons of water.

Applesauce, silken tofu, and cornstarch are other egg replacement options, and for non-vegans, yogurt can be used.


Holiday baked goods often call for different oils and butter, but you can easily replace those ingredients with healthier versions. Coconut oil, safflower oil, and organic grass-fed butter can easily be used instead, at a 1:1 ratio.

Fruit and Nuts

You can add a boost of fiber and flavor to your recipes by throwing in some nuts, seeds, or dried fruit. These can go directly into the batter, or can simply be used as a topping.