How to Make Healthier Holiday Cookies

By: Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D., Digital Nutrition & News Editor

Christmas cookies

Easy, healthy swaps and tips for your next batch of Christmas cookies. 

We love Christmas cookies—not to mention everyday lunchbox cookies—and we especially love delicious cookies that are healthier, too! Here are five tips for making your favorite cookies better any time of year. Happy baking!

Related: Healthy Christmas Cookie Recipes

Tip 1: Add Fiber to Your Cookies

boot track cookies

Pictured Recipe: Boot Tracks

Try replacing some (or all) of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat pastry flour and/or oats. If you are used to the taste and texture of whole-wheat, some cookies are just as satisfying when made with 100% whole-wheat flour. Using whole-wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour gives your cookies about four times the amount of fiber in every batch.

For more delicate-textured cookies or if you are still getting used to the taste and texture of whole-wheat, try using more finely milled whole-wheat pastry flour or mild-flavored white whole-wheat flour in place of about half of the all-purpose flour—you’ll still get the added benefit of extra fiber without much wheaty flavor.

Or try replacing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour with whole rolled oats or oats that have been ground into a “flour.”

Tip 2: Cut Back on Added Sugar

Chia Seed Sugar Cookie Thins

Pictured Recipe: Chia Seed Sugar Cookie Thins

Cookies are treats, and we're not saying you need to cut out added sugar entirely, especially at the holidays. But there are ways to scale it back and still have a tasty show-stopping cookie. Instead of icing your sugar cookies, sprinkle with nuts, orange zest, dried flowers or seeds or drizzle with a little bit of dark chocolate. Experiment with your favorite cookie recipe and trying using just a little bit less sweetener and add in vanilla, almond or lemon for a sweet confectionary flavor (without the added sugar). We love natural sweeteners, such as honey and maple syrup, in our cookies, because of their delicious flavor profile, but keep in mind that they count toward added sugar totals.

Tip 3: Add an Omega-3 Boost

Fig 'n' Flax Thumbprint Cookies

Pictured Recipe: Fig 'n' Flax Thumbprint Cookies

Ground flaxseeds or flaxmeal also add fiber to baked goods. Ground flaxseeds also contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid linked to cardiovascular health. Try adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds (or flaxmeal) to a batch of cookies. The flavor of flax complements oat-based cookies or cookies that are highly spiced, such as ginger molasses cookies or snickerdoodles.

Tip 4: Keep Sodium in Check

Nut and Honey Biscotti

Pictured Recipe: Nut & Honey Biscotti

Some baked goods can be surprisingly high in sodium. Aim for no more than 1/2 teaspoon salt per batch of cookies. If you’re on a salt-restricted diet, try reducing the salt in a batch of cookies to 1/4 teaspoon.

Tip 5: Eliminate Trans Fat & Other Artificial Ingredients

Sugar Cut-Out Cookies

Pictured Recipe: Sugar Cut-Out Cookies

Steer clear of ingredients that contain partially hydrogenated oil (or trans fats), such as margarine and most vegetable shortenings. Consider limiting other artificial ingredients, such as artificial food dyes. 

One of the benefits of homemade baked goods is their simple list of ingredients. By making your own cookies, you can use whole ingredients and avoid most or all processed ingredients that are found in many packaged cookies. 

We’re not Scrooges—we know holiday cookies look more festive when decorated with sprinkles or colored frosting—but we like to keep ingredients as “natural” as possible. A little food dye now and then probably isn’t so bad, but if you’d like to avoid artificial ingredients, look for all-natural food dyes, such as red dye made from beets, available in natural foods stores or online. Or try a drizzle of chocolate or a sprinkle of finely chopped nuts to give cookies extra appeal. 

Tip 6: Make Them More Heart Healthy

Mini Gingerbread House Cookies

Pictured Recipe: Mini Gingerbread House Cookies

Swap out some of the butter, margarine or shortening for heart-healthy oils, such as canola oil or olive oil. For every tablespoon of butter you replace with heart-healthy oil, you eliminate at least 5 grams of saturated fat from your batch of cookies. (A batch of 2 dozen cookies made with 1 cup butter has almost 5 grams saturated fat per cookie.) In the EatingWell Test Kitchen, we’ve had good luck replacing up to 50% of the butter in a recipe. Keep in mind that when you reduce the butter in a recipe you may lose some of its tenderizing and moisture-retaining properties. Cookies that use some oil in place of butter may be a bit crisper and may dry out sooner. To preserve the best cookie texture, be sure to store extra cookies in an airtight container.

Watch: How to Make Slice & Bake Sugar Cookies

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