Make Over Your Favorite Holiday Treat

Try these lighter versions of classic goodies

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

You already know what foods you love to eat during the holidays, don't you? You probably don't need anyone to give you any new, exotic, or gourmet holiday recipes, but you might be looking for a way to enjoy the holiday treats you know and love without calorie overkill.

The way I see it, the holidays are to be enjoyed. And the key to getting through them without gaining a pound is to enjoy some of our favorite foods -- in reasonable portions -- and to trim them back on calories, fat, and sugar when possible. (Keep up with that exercise program, too!)

Members visiting the Recipe Doctor and Snack Attack community boards have talked about all sorts of favorite holiday treats, from fudge and brownies to snickerdoodles. We all want to have our cake (or cookies, as it were) and eat it too! And so we can. Let's just cut the calories as much as tastefully possible. Deal? Deal.

I took on two popular holiday cookies and cut the fat by using lower-fat margarine, and I reduced the sugar by using Splenda. They look and taste just as joyous as they used to -- but we've trimmed the calories by 25%.

The tricky part about cookies is that if you cut back on the fat too much, it's not a cookie anymore -- it's a muffin. When you change the proportion of fat to flour and increase the level of moisture to compensate, you can lose the characteristic texture of a cookie. But I've learned that I can go down to 25% to 33% less fat in a cookie recipe and still have it look and taste wonderful.

By using a margarine with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon instead of butter or stick margarine (which has about 12 grams of fat per tablespoon) in the cookie recipes, we cut the fat by one-third (4 grams of fat per tablespoon).

I also included a lighter fudge recipe. Why? Because I'm fondly known as "the fudge lady," that's why! Every holiday season, I invent a couple of new fun fudge flavors and disperse them among my friends. I figure there are two types of people: those who like fudge and those who love fudge. Guess which one I am.

This fudge recipe does not (I repeat, not) require a double boiler or a Santa's bag full of patience. We use the microwave, and the dish is prepared in about 5 minutes. The best part is that this is a low-guilt indulgence because I use fat-free sweetened condensed milk and nonfat flavor enhancing ingredients (like liqueur) instead of butter. The only fatty ingredient is the chocolate -- which, in my book, is fat grams well spent.

Russian Tea Cakes

These powdered-sugar cookies end up on many a holiday cookie platter and are one of my personal favorites. Here's a light rendition I love just as much.

1 cup no- or low-trans fat margarine with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon (such as Land O' Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread or Take Control)
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Splenda
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup powdered sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat margarine and vanilla until smooth.
  • In a 4-cup measure, whisk 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar, Splenda, and both flours together, then beat into the butter mixture until just blended.
  • On low speed, beat in the chopped walnuts.
  • Use a cookie scoop (1/8 cup) to place the dough on an ungreased nonstick cookie sheet or jellyroll pan, 2 inches apart. Using your fingers, press down on the dough balls to flatten to 1/2-inch thickness.
  • Bake for about 12 minutes, or until starting to lightly brown. Let cool, then roll in the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar.

Yield: 20 large (bakery-size) cookies

Per cookie: 144 calories, 3 g protein, 12.5 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat (1.3 g saturated fat, 2.2 g monounsaturated fat, 4.5 g polyunsaturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 1.1 g fiber, 60 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 56%.

Thumbprint Cookies

You can fill these fun, festive cookies with an assortment of jam or preserves.

1/2 cup no- or low-trans fat margarine with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon (such as Land O' Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread or Take Control)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Splenda
1 large egg yolk (or substitute 2 tablespoons egg substitute)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
1/3 cup less-sugar preserves (or lemon curd)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, beat the margarine with sugar and Splenda on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
  • Add egg yolk or egg substitute and vanilla and almond extracts; beat well.
  • In a 4-cup measure, whisk the flours and salt together. Beat flour mixture into the margarine mixture gradually on low speed, just until combined.
  • Put almonds in a small food processor and process until nicely ground. Beat into cookie dough mixture on low speed, just to combine.
  • Use a cookie scoop (1/8 cup) to put dough on nonstick cookie sheet or jellyroll pan, about 2 inches apart (line with parchment paper if desired). Make a deep indentation in the center of each ball with your thumb.
  • Bake for 8 minutes, then remove from oven. Fill center of each cookie with a slightly heaping 1-teaspoon measure of jam (if necessary, press down center of cookies again before filling with jam). Bake about 8 minutes more or until golden brown. Place cookies on wire rack to cool.