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Healthy Holiday Swap-Out: How to Give Your Seasonal Treats a Boost

on December 16, 2013

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.

gingerbread manThe holidays are that time of year where everyone loves to indulge in delicious foods and desserts….just in time before setting a resolution to get healthy again for the new year. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could still enjoy the foods and treats you love during the holidays and not feel like you need to dedicate the next year to working it off? Namely, many of the foods I am referring to are loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats (which of course are what make everything taste incredible). However, Katie and I have unearthed some top-notch healthier alternatives that we think will leave your taste buds longing for more…. Of the less-junk-food-y version! I swapped out some of the most popular treats we tend to gravitate towards this time of year; I was pleasantly surprised to see how delicious these different options have been.
First up, eggnog (I think I mentioned this before, but I have been an addict since I can remember). While my memories of this delectable drink are more of an ingredient list consisting of spices, cream, eggs, milk, and sugar (believe me, I memorized the ingredient list as a kid so I could try and make my own when my mom wasn’t looking)….taking a look at the ingredient list now is quite a different story. For starters, eggnog in general is not healthy due to the fat and sugar content, but what’s added to eggnog now is so sad. Even the organic brands leave me disappointed (there is ONE brand that I can recommend that doesn’t put garbage in their nog: Organic Valley Dairy; the other organic brands I have seen put carrageenan in their recipe!). Forget conventional eggnog – it’s full of artificial flavorings, color, carrageenan, and other “stabilizers.” Pretty much, it’s a science experiment. So, I would suggest sticking to Organic Valley or some other organic brand that could be more local to you that clearly states on the ingredient list that nothing artificial is added. Please note that the serving size is ½ cup and in that ½ cup (who really drinks a ½ cup!??!) is about 8-10 grams of fat and about 16 g of sugar, so again…this is not a healthy treat (but if you’re going to drink eggnog and not make your own, I’d recommend going as “clean” as possible). OR, you could check out this neat alternative recipe that puts a delicious twist on my fave drink AND adds some nutrition…while sparing the bad fats and lots of sugar! VEGAN EGGNOG (Courtesy of TheChalkboard)
makes 7-8 cups
1 cup raw cashews, soaked 4 hours or more
2 cups filtered water
1 400 ml can of coconut milk (organic + non-BPA-exposed is preferable)
5-6 medjool dates, pitted
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg + extra for serving
Strain the cashews and place them in a blender with the 2 cups of water. Blend on high until a smooth and creamy milk forms, about one minute.
Add the coconut milk, pitted dates, vanilla bean seeds, sea salt, and nutmeg to the cashew milk. Blend the mixture on high again until you have a smooth, homogenous mixture. Transfer the nog to a serving vessel or jar and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. I like it slightly cooler than room temperature. Once you pour the nog out into serving glasses, top it with a bit of extra grated nutmeg.
Note: If you’re making this ahead of time, it’s great to shake it up in a jar or re-blend it right before you serve it to achieve that frothy quality of traditional nog.

Next up….(and again, I have mentioned this recently in a recent post, artificially-colored sprinkles, dyes, etc. in holiday cookies, cakes, and candies. While they make everything look oh-so-festive, chances are, the dyes used are NOT natural, which means eating just one bite could mean a sensitivity reaction that you may not be aware of, especially in children. Synthetic dyes are BANNED pretty much everywhere else other than the U.S., due to their links to cancer, hyperactivity, ADHD, allergic reactions, neurological disturbances, headaches, and behavioral changes (especially in children). I know what you’re thinking: “Crazy Megan, at it again…. That’s not going to stop me from having the best-looking baked goods this holiday. Besides, it’s only one time per year!” Perhaps, but I’d rather eliminate these harsh chemicals from my food intake. Even small “doses” can add up quick, especially in little, developing bodies! Either ditch the color altogether or check out these better alternatives: India Tree makes concentrated natural food-dye drops made from vegetable concentrate and spices; Nourishing Joy has some awesome ways to make natural food dyes yourself. also has some suggestions. Better yet, the has a whole array of natural baking/decorating product list to choose from.

Candy Canes. OK, what would the holidays be without these characteristic staples of peppermint-y goodness? From hanging them from your tree to smashing them atop cookies and candies, how harmful could candy canes really be? Well, once again, if you read the ingredient list, candy canes would soon resemble something that would be used to lure little children in herds by the evil candy witch (ok, a little dramatic of a depiction there, but you get my point). Sadly, my holiday fervor was slightly dampened once I realized I would no longer eat conventional candy canes as a peppermint treat. That is until I found these awesome ORGANIC candy canes (are those three words allowed to be used in the same sentence?!?). Again, while not a HEALTH food (remember, just because something is organic does NOT mean it’s “healthy”…..but for a treat, I’d rather indulge on something that wasn’t created in a chemistry lab and should come with a toxic warning label on it). TruSweets/TruJoySweets has a delicious version that is made with less sugar (organic, too) and no artificial colorings or flavorings. Now you can make your peppermint bark in peace.

Speaking of peppermint bark (oh so tasty!)…..what could be so bad about this? It’s just chocolate and peppermint, right? Yea, not so much. It’s highly-processed, and usually made way in advance of the holidays, so there are tons of preservatives added to it. Not to mention the high doses of trans-fats, sugar, artificial food coloring and flavoring – this is a treat that definitely has a bark to it (and not the kind you want going into your body). So, Leanne Vogel ( created this awesome version that’s dairy-free (can we say allergy friendly!??!):

• 1 cup (8 ounces) semi-sweet dairy-free chocolate (I like to use
• 1 cup (8 ounces) coconut butter (this is different than coconut oil; coconut butter can be found in the same section of the store as coconut oil; it’s creamier and more smooth).
• 3 organic candy canes (I have to put this here, after my rant about the artificially-colored and flavored ones). If you can’t acquire organic candy canes, you can use a few drops of organic peppermint extract (although the bark won’t have much crunch, which is OK for your health’s sake!).

– Boil water in a saucepan; melt chocolate in a separate heatproof bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (this helps prevent it from burning or getting clumpy). Be sure to constantly stir and do not allow the hot water to splash up into your chocolate, as this can ruin it. It should take about 5 minutes to melt.
– Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper draping over both sides.
– Pour the melted chocolate into the parchment-papered-pan and smooth it out as best as possible.
– Put the pan in the freezer for about 2 minutes (or until the chocolate is set and hardened).
– Complete the same melting procedure for the coconut butter as you did with the chocolate and stir to make sure it’s smooth.
– Remove the chocolate in the pan from the freezer and layer the coconut butter over the top of the chocolate.
– Sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top of the bark and place it back in the freezer to set for about 1 hour.
– Remove from the freezer, break into several pieces, and serve.

For more of Leanne’s awesome holiday recipes that are very allergy-friendly, check it out here.

Katie found some great recipes, too:
– She and I both are Peppermint Patties fanatics, but have both sadly retreated into avoidance-mode due to the scary ingredients (mostly artificial flavorings, etc.). Here is a recipe to make your own! (Courtesy of
– Fall Pumpkin Spiced Cookies from The Organic Family Cookbook. The “Delicious Gratitude Red Velvet Carrot Cupcakes” and “Chewy Decadent Caramels” (made with whipping cream, pure cane sugar, raw agave, butter and sea salt) sound pretty darn good!

Looking for a tasty nut-butter cookie recipe that doesn’t always have to be peanuts (especially for those peanut-allergy folks out there)? I found this incredible vanilla cashew butter cookie recipe. If you don’t mind the butter, fat, and sugar content of the original recipe, then go for it… I just recommend using all organic ingredients. If you want to scale back a bit on the fat and sugar, make these following changes: use less sugar (i.e. ¼, ½, to ¾ a cup versus the 1 full cup…and maybe add a few drops of stevia if you are concerned about the sweetness) and/or use coconut sugar or brown sugar; to cut down on the butter, use ½ stick instead of a full stick and add more cashew butter OR sub 6 ounces of organic low-fat cream cheese. These cookies are delectable.

Last but not least, hot chocolate (especially the flavored ones). There’s something to be said for cozying up to a warm mug of hot chocolate around the holidays (or all winter long, for that matter). I used to love tearing open a little packet of Swiss Miss or Ghiradelli hot chocolate. Used to is the key phrase here, as with mainly everything else processed, these hot chocolates contain everything BUT real chocolate in many cases. Rather, you’ll see ingredients like artificial flavorings, colors, too much sugar, alkalizing agents (i.e. what makes cocoa “dutch” – this is a topic for another article), preservatives, stabilizers, hydrogenated oils….the list goes on. These are definitely things you do NOT want going into the human body if you are maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Rather, make your own (and it’s not that hard!).
– In a small saucepan over low heat, use about 2 tablespoons organic cocoa or cacao powder (raw is best, meaning it was not processed or heat-treated, this preserving beneficial antioxidants) mixed in to about 1-1/2 cups of your liquid base of choice (you can use low-fat organic milk, water, water mixed with milk, or nut milks).
– To cut out sugar (this is what I do), add about 3-4 drops of stevia and whisk until heated.
– If you want, you can add a drop of organic peppermint extract.
– Just note that cocoa powder does naturally contain caffeine, so this is something to consider for young children. I personally do not feel children should be getting caffeine, but if hot cocoa is a treat in your house, I’d rather see a healthier version prepared.

While I did not intend to put the Scrooge on your holiday fare festivities, I hope you found these suggestions helpful and even if you implemented just one, that’s saving you a bunch of unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. Plus, it’s fun to try new things and broaden your healthy horizons. I hope your holiday season has been going well so far!

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: or feel free to send her an e-mail at:

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