37 Healthy Holiday Dessert Recipes
Healthy holiday desserts
There's nothing better than spending a cold winter day inside by the fire, whipping up delicious holiday treats for your friends and family. But all those baked goods you indulge in during the month of December can take a toll on your waistline; according to recent research from Cornell University, the average weight gain for Americans during the Christmas-New Year's season is 1.3 pounds. (What's more, it took half the participants in the study five months to shed the weight they'd gained during the holidays.)
The solution: We've rounded up some of our favorite healthy holiday treats that contain significantly less sugar and calories than their more fattening counterparts. From whole-wheat sugar cookies to chewy lemon bars to moist holiday cakes, there's something for everyone on this list. The best part? All of these treats are packed with flavor, thanks to better-for-you ingredients like ground cinnamon, dried cherries, low-fat yogurt, pure pumpkin, and fresh ginger—in other words, no one will notice that they're actually munching on healthier cookies and cakes. Happy baking!
Try this recipe: Ambrosia Trifle
Guests will totally appreciate the lightness (thanks angel fod cake!) of this delectable dessert. The best part is if you're short on time, feel free to use a pre-made cake from the supermarket.
Ingredients: coconut cream, heavy cream, coconut sugar, red grapefruit, pink grapefruit, navel oranges, pineapple, angel food cake, toasted coconut flakes
Pear Tarte Tatin
Try this recipe: Pear Tarte Tatin
In our take on the classic tarte, we use less butter and sugar, allowing the pear's natural sweetness do more of the work. Anjou pears are the way to go here, but Boscs will do as well.
Ingredients: granulated sugar, honey, butter, ground cinnamon, pears, puff pastry, all-purpose flour, heavy cream, ground cardamom
Tropical Fruit Bundt Cake
Try this recipe: Tropical Fruit Bundt Cake
White whole-wheat flour is the star of this dessert. It offers up the health benefits of whole-wheat flour, but maintains the tender crumb you want in a cake.
Ingredients: white whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, sea salt, eggs, turbinado sugar, extra-virgin olive oil, ginger, vanilla extract, fresh pineapple, banana, plain yogurt, powdered sugar, toasted pecans
Winter Fruit Pavlovas
Try this recipe: Winter Fruit Pavlovas
When it comes to make ahead desserts, this one is a sure hit. You can prep the meringue, mascarpone sauce, and maple cranberries beforehand and assemble them before just before serving.
Ingredients: granulated sugar, cornstarch, egg whites, cream of tartar, kosher salt, pure maple syrup, cranberries, plain yogurt, mascarpone cheese, orange, honeycrisp apple, pomegranate seeds, fresh rosemary
Dark Chocolate–Pistachio Tart
Try this recipe: Dark Chocolate–Pistachio Tart
This dessert is rich and intense. Swap in almonds or hazelnuts depending on you preference. And since the whole thing is flourless, it's gluten-free too.
Ingredients: pistachios, egg whites, apricot preserves, half-and-half, 70% dark chocolate, sea salt
Lemon-Herb Shortbread Cookies
Try this recipe: Lemon-Herb Shortbread Cookies
These cookies use less butter than traditional shortbread, and almond meal packs in some extra nutrients. And the dough will keep in the freezer for up to a month, so feel free to make it ahead, or just save the extra for your next batch.
Ingredients: turbinado sugar, almond meal, all-purpose flour, butter, lemon, poppy seeds, fresh thyme, sea salt
Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies
Try this recipe: Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies
There’s a reason these cookies are a classic—they satisfy your sweet tooth while only costing 126 calories per cookie. Get the family involved by gathering around the kitchen counter to decorate with festive icing and sprinkles!
Ingredients: Flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda, butter, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, egg white, pure vanilla extract, pure almond extract, confectioner's sugar, lemon juice
White-Chocolate Holiday Bark
Try this recipe: White Chocolate Holiday Bark
Everyone will love this white-chocolate twist on bark. It’s packed with heart-healthy, antioxidant-rich dried cranberries and almonds.
Ingredients: Almonds, unsweetened coconut, rice cereal, dried cranberries, white chocolate, vegetable oil
Lemon zest is a great way to add flavor to cookies, cakes, and your other favorite dishes. This Cooking Light video shows you how to remove the outer rind of a lemon, which is filled with tasty, aromatic oils, while avoiding the bitter, white pith underneath.
Cranberry-Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Try this recipe: Cranberry-Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies
These cookies taste so decadent Santa will never know they’re packed with whole wheat, fiber-rich oats, and omega-rich walnuts. Don’t forget to leave a glass of milk out as well.
Ingredients: All-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, regular oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, dried cranberries, walnuts, semisweet chocolate minichips, brown sugar, butter, honey, vanilla extract, eggs, cooking spray
Apple spice cake
Try this recipe: Apple Spice Cake
Traditional recipes often call for more than two sticks of butter. Cut out fat and calories by swapping in low-fat buttermilk and vegetable oil instead. Spices like cinnamon and cloves add flavor and can improve your health without adding calories.
Ingredients: Dark brown sugar, cream cheese, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, buttermilk, Braeburn apple, brandy, cooking spray, powdered sugar
Try this recipe: Buttermilk Pralines
Shhh. Don’t tell anyone our version has a fraction of the fat and calories of a traditional praline. Even better, they last up to two weeks in an airtight container.
Ingredients: Sugar, buttermilk, corn syrup, baking soda, salt, pecans, butter, vanilla extract
Peppermint Ice Cream Cake
Try this recipe: Peppermint Ice Cream Cake
You’ll love starting a new (and guilt-free) holiday tradition with this festive cake. Low-fat ice cream cuts the saturated fat and cholesterol by more than half, making this frozen treat much healthier than you’d expect.
Ingredients: Cooking spray, unsweetened cocoa, butter, dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg substitute, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla extract, peppermint ice cream, fat-free whipped topping, peppermint extract, peppermint candies
Quick Baked Pears
Try this recipe: Quick Baked Pears
Top this fruity dessert with cranberries for a low-fat, antioxidant-rich dessert. Use Bosc or Comice varieties—they’re in peak season in the fall and winter.
Ingredients: Bosc pears, sugar, cinnamon, dried cranberries, low-fat granola, apple juice, low-fat frozen yogurt
White Peppermint Snowballs
Try this recipe: White Peppermint Snowballs
These snowballs are easy to make with your favorite brand of packaged sugar-cookie dough, or dough you create yourself. Adding in some crushed peppermint candies makes them extra festive, and the minty smell may actually help you eat less.
Ingredients: Refrigerated sugar cookie dough, peppermint candies, powdered sugar
Black and White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Try this recipe: Black and White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Forget spiking the punch and pour a little bit of Kahlua into this cookie mix to add a subtle coffee flavor. If that isn’t enough of a bonus, you’ll be pleased to know these tasty treats are low in saturated fat and cholesterol too!
Ingredients: Cake flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, vegetable shortening, egg substitute, Kahlua, vanilla extract, semisweet chocolate minichips, white chocolate chips, pecans
Brownies with Butterscotch Drizzle
Try this recipe: Brownies with Butterscotch Drizzle
No blood-sugar spike here! Using both bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate in this classic treat cuts the sugar almost in half.
Ingredients: Unsalted butter, unsweetened chocolate, low-fat sour cream, cooking spray, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, whole-wheat flour, salt, bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips, butterscotch chips, 1% low-fat milk
Healthier Pumpkin Pie
Try this recipe: Healthier Pumpkin Pie
Unlike your traditional, flour-based crust, this recipe calls in graham cracker crumbs to get the job done. To make it even healthier, use whole-wheat graham crackers. This recipe also features coconut milk, which may help improve your cholesterol.
Ingredients: Graham cracker crumbs, sugar, vegetable oil, pure pumpkin, coconut milk, eggs, light brown sugar, salt, fresh ginger, fresh grated nutmeg, cinnamon, whipped cream
Baked Apple Fritters
Try this recipe: Baked Apple Fritters
This dessert might be stuffed with fresh apples but at only 214 calories per portion it won’t leave you stuffed!
Ingredients: Active dry yeast, 1% low-fat milk, all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, honey, butter, salt, egg, apple, apple juice, ground cinnamon, powdered sugar
Try this recipe: Turtle Bars
Making your own caramel and “cookie helps you control the calories. Don’t worry: These treats still taste as decadent as they look!
Ingredients: Bittersweet chocolate, 2% reduced-fat milk, vanilla extract, chopped toasted pecans, sugar, light corn syrup, whipping cream
Coconut Chiffon Cupcakes With Marshmallow Frosting
Try this recipe: Coconut Chiffon Cupcakes With Marshmallow Frosting
A meringue-based frosting and a classic chiffon cake batter made with eggs and oil (instead of butter) give these dainty treats one-third the calories and fat of traditional cupcakes. The unsweetened coconut dusted on top looks like newly fallen snow—perfect for a festive winter touch.
Ingredients: Cake flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, cream of tartar, unsweetened coconut
Try this recipe: Snickerdoodles
These cookies are made of sugar and spice and everything nice—literally! Well maybe not everything nice, but the whole family will get the point—they’re simple enough for everyone to make together!
Ingredients: All-purpose flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla, egg, ground cinnamon, cooking spray
Cheesecake with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
Try this recipe: Cheesecake with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
You won’t feel guilty about indulging in this classic dessert. Using low-fat cream cheese and replacing butter with egg whites in the cookie-crumb crust reduces total calories by one-third and slashes fat to less than half the traditional recipe.
Ingredients: Sugar, vanilla wafers, salt, egg whites, cooking spray, sugar, cornstarch, 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, block-style fat-free cream cheese, vanilla extract, lemon juice, eggs, strawberries
Try this recipe: Cappuccino Trifle
Just a small bite of this trifle, filled with all your favorite holiday flavors, will satisfy your sweet tooth. Replace the eggs with egg whites to make it even more heart-healthy.
Ingredients: Non-self-rising cake flour, kosher salt, egg whites, cream of tartar, lemon, crushed coffee beans, hulled strawberries, granulated sugar, espresso powder, 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, sour cream, pasteurized egg whites, unsweetened cocoa powder
Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Bars
Try this recipe: Chocolate Chip-Butterscotch Bars
This low-sodium recipe has a protein kick thanks to the chopped pecans. Extra bonus: The butterscotch gives these treats a rich, satisfying flavor without packing on too much fat.
Ingredients: Granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, semisweet chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, cooking spray, chopped pecans
Cinnamon Streusel Crisps
Try this recipe: Cinnamon Streusel Crisps
Elevate packaged sugar-cookie dough in a flash by adding pecans, brown sugar, and spices. We guarantee this holiday cookie will get rave reviews.
Ingredients: Refrigerated sugar cookie dough, light brown sugar, chopped pecans, ground cinnamon ground nutmeg (optional)
Frozen Peanut Butter Pie
Try this recipe: Frozen Peanut Butter Pie
Peanut-butter pie normally is a recipe for a diet disaster, but the fat-free dairy products keep this pie’s fat count in check. For cholesterol-conscious holiday guests, use egg whites to give this dessert less than 2 grams per serving.
Ingredients: Chocolate graham cracker crumbs, sugar, egg whites, cooking spray, fat-free milk, reduced-fat crunchy peanut butter, vanilla, fat-free cream cheese, frozen fat-free whipped topping, dry-roasted peanuts, shaved milk chocolate
Light German-Chocolate Cake
Try the recipe: Light German-Chocolate Cake
This chocolaty treat will go perfectly with coffee or chai tea around the fire! Opt for fat-free evaporated milk to cut even more fat and calories.
Ingredients: Cooking spray, Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate, plain low-fat yogurt, vegetable oil, apple cider vinegar, pure vanilla extract, egg whites, all-purpose flour, sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, chopped pecans, sweetened flaked coconut, fat-free evaporated milk, cornstarch, light brown sugar, unsalted butter
Double Chocolate Sorbet Sandwiches
Try this recipe: Double Chocolate Sorbet Sandwiches
These flourless, gluten-free cookies are incredibly rich and fudgy. But don’t be fooled—even guests without dietary restrictions will love them!
Ingredients: Powdered sugar, Dutch process cocoa powder, Kosher salt, bittersweet chocolate, chopped walnuts, egg whites, vanilla extract, sorbet or gelato (such as coconut, hazelnut, or pistachio)
Chocolate Chunk Bread Puddings
Try this recipe: Chocolate Chunk Bread Puddings
A light chocolate coating adds a rich flavor without packing in a lot of fat. Boost antioxidants (and add a bit of color) by topping with strawberries.
Ingredients: Hawaiian sweet bread, 2% reduced-fat milk, sugar, unsweetened cocoa, Kahlua, vanilla extract, egg, cooking spray, semisweet chocolate, frozen fat-free whipped topping
Try this recipe: Linzer Thumbprints
Raspberry jam and toasted hazelnuts make this cookie recipe hard to resist, and for 87 calories, you don’t have to.
Ingredients: Hazelnuts, flour, ground cinnamon, lemon juice, seedless raspberry jam
Mini Raspberry Tarts
Try this recipe: Mini Raspberry Tarts
These bite-size desserts look gourmet but are a cinch to bake. Substitute strawberries, blueberries, or other fruits as a topping as you wish.
Ingredients: Refrigerated sugar cookie dough, 1/3-less-fat block-style cream cheese, sugar, orange, vanilla extract, raspberries
Surprisingly Light Apple Pie
Try this recipe: Surprisingly Light Apple Pie
Whip up this versatile version with Winesap, Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, or Braeburn apples. Or use a combination of a few of your favorites to give a better texture to your filling. The result? A slice that's 155 calories lighter than traditional pies!
Ingredients: All-purpose flour, sugar, salt, unsalted butter, trans fat-free shortening, apples, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon
Chocolate Icebox Cake With Raspberry Sauce
Try this recipe: Chocolate Icebox Cake With Raspberry Sauce
This cake cuts the fat by replacing heavy cream with fat-free sour cream. The raspberries add some hunger-busting fiber.
Ingredients: Reduced-fat sour cream, fat-free sour cream, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, salt, chocolate wafers, fresh raspberries, fresh lime juice
Try this recipe: Coconut-Lemon Minis
These toasted-coconut minis look rich but are super light. They’re gorgeous and low-fuss, making them a great signature dessert to show off at holiday parties. Your friends will never know you’re actually not a master baker.
Ingredients: Cake flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, flaked sweetened coconut, finely grated fresh lemon zest, unsalted butter, canola oil, low-fat buttermilk, egg, coconut extract, toasted coconut flakes